Opinion: What’s wrong with politicians

Andrew Yang, democratic candidate for mayor of New York City, speaks to the press about attacks on Asian Americans following a campaign appearance in Brooklyn, New York
Mayoral candidate Andrew Yang speaks to the press.
REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

It’s an exciting time in New York politics! 

At the state level, New York is in the process of distributing vaccines to everyone over 30 and then over 16, halting most solitary confinement in the city and state, legalizing marijuana, and a generous budget financed by the fed “stimmy” and new taxes on the rich. Meanwhile, at the city level…

Uh, we’re still sick of de Blasio and the mayor’s race looks pretty similar to the way it looked a month ago.

At least this was the week Politico published its article on the mayoral candidates’ tax returns. The eight major candidates all submitted, except for investment banker Ray McGuire, who of course had the tax returns we all wanted the most to see.

My first takeaway from the tax returns is that owning a house that you rent out part of but that doesn’t cover your total mortgage payment and tax, insurance, and fuel cost is a solid and perfectly legal tax avoidance strategy.

My second takeaway is that Borough President Eric Adams was perhaps almost correct when he said Andrew Yang “never held a job in his entire life.”

Actually Yang started a small test prep company (not very progressive!) and then pivoted to founding a startup called Venture for America which — get this — was premised on taking jobs out of New York City. It didn’t do too well in terms of the goals it set for itself, and Yang left it in 2017, three years after the publication of his book “Smart People Should Build Things.”

Yang has lived off royalties from the book, speaking fees (his taxes registered 120 days in California over the last four years), and mostly his savings ever since. He is in his mid-forties and has two young children. But don’t worry — if he fails to become mayor, he will surely be able to monetize his now-broad “platform” of followers for the rest of his life. 

If he wins, he will be in charge of a $92 billion budget. 

Between Yang and McGuire, we can see our least politically experienced candidates are just as problematic as the lifelong politicians.

And the political insiders can be terrible! This week saw marijuana legalized in New York state, but that effort had been hung up for years by the pettiness of various long-term Albany denizens. I have heard terrible stories that I will not print about most but not all of the figures who negotiated the final deal, long-time state elected officials whom the general public cannot name.

I’ve been in the political game for a while now, and it’s clear that most political hopefuls are quite limited people, in terms of ethics and intellect. Why they are terrible is a question longer than I can answer here, though I think it involves both the kind of people who put themselves forward and the processes they operate under, that determines which of them succeed.

The professional politicians are often damaged people, who extinguish their lights in order to succeed and move up. But in my experience the amateurs are worse, because they excuse all their bad behavior with naive self-righteousness.