Kara Alaimo, an associate professor of public relations at Hofstra University, is the author of “Pitch, Tweet, or Engage on the Street: How to Practice Global Public Relations and Strategic Communication.” She was spokesperson for international affairs in the Treasury Department during the Obama administration. Follow her on Twitter @karaalaimo. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author. View more opinion at CNN.
(CNN)On Tuesday, New York City mayoral candidate Andrew Yang argued that a New York Daily News cartoon presenting him as a tourist in his own city was racist — portraying him as somehow a foreigner in a place where he works and lives. As part of its justification for the decision to run the cartoon, the News pointed out that Yang left the city for much of the pandemic and “recently named the Times Square subway station his favorite among all underground New York City stops.” Yang’s campaign condemned the cartoon as “racist.”
Kara Alaimo In making this point, the Daily News drew upon the city’s quirky parochialism: Voters in New York City like mayors who know their way around the subway (a constant source of controversy for then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who was often chauffeured in SUVs), eat pizza with their hands (which has cut into current Mayor Bill DeBlasio’s political capital) and talk tough. Basically, they expect their leaders to conform to the stereotype of a “real” New Yorker. The implication here is that no “real” New Yorker would show favor to a subway stop routinely — at least in pre-pandemic times — so congested (yes, often with tourists), loud, grimy and difficult to navigate. “Yikes…Yang def doesn’t travel anywhere remotely outside of Times Square/Penn Station/Grand Central area. Not a NYer,” read one tweet.Read More But this hyper-local caricature is strikingly at odds with the city’s global identity as a mecca for people of different cultures, ethnicities, lifestyles and beliefs — as well as its reputation for tolerance and cosmopolitanism. Where else can you find dim sum almost as good as you’d get in Hong Kong or tzatziki that rivals that of an authentic Athenian restaurant — and people from other cultures who spend their weekends hunting these foods down? Given the city’s embrace of different cultures, it’s long past time to get over the idea that only hard-talking men who eat pizza with their hands can lead it. This concept isn’t just bizarre: it’s also deeply sexist and antiquated at a time when Americans are having a national reckoning over the need to be more inclusive.The troubling message behind altering girls' yearbook photos to hide their cleavage If New Yorkers want their city to recover from the massive losses of jobs and businesses inflicted by the coronavirus, they need to start focusing carefully on who has the skills and knowledge to lead the way out of this mess — not how people eat their pizza. In the case of the cartoon, the argument that Yang doesn’t belong is especially cringeworthy because he is Asian American. Asian Americans are, of course, facing a spate of hate crimes. And the way the paper originally drew Yang’s eyes before later editing them played right into racist tropes. But it’s also wrong to imply that anyone doesn’t belong in a city of over 8 million people from every conceivable nation and walk of life simply because they left during a once-in-a-generation global pandemic (newsflash: over 330,000 others had left by the end of 2020 too).Of course, Yang isn’t qualified to be mayor, but this has nothing to do with his favorite subway stop. It’s because he has no political experience — in fact, he has no experience even voting in a mayoral race. Yang spends much of his time engaging in Trump-like stunts that distract us all — himself included, it seems — from the dire issues that New York City is facing instead of putting forward policy proposals to help the city crawl out from under the devastation wreaked by the pandemic. In April, he was caught on video laughing in response to a question about whether he choked women. The clip is reminiscent of the Access Hollywood tape released before Donald Trump was elected president, in which he too appeared untroubled about the idea of assaulting women. Yang’s campaign thus far also feels like a harbinger of the Trump-like administration — focused on social media antics rather than solutions to social problems — we can expect if Yang does win, regardless of his party differences. When asked about his reaction in the video, Yang stated that he had been trying to be friendly, but cut the interaction short when he realized it was inappropriate. Get our free weekly newsletter
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In fact, before he ran for president, Trump was often considered the quintessential successful New Yorker. The mess he left behind — including a country ravaged by a pandemic and an insurrection at the nation’s Capitol — tells us all we need to know about the wisdom of electing someone based on this criteria. So let’s be clear: Andrew Yang belongs in New York, but not in City Hall. This is the result of his lack of policy — rather than cultural — qualifications. But far more New Yorkers are suitable for the job than are often given credit by supposedly cosmopolitan New Yorkers. Fortunately, there’s a diverse lineup of candidates who are running for mayor this year. These candidates who don’t look like most past mayors are worthy of consideration for more than a New York minute.