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Andrew Yang, a leading candidate in the race to become New York City's next mayor, says embattled New York Governor Andrew Cuomo should "step aside" and that the state has a "better chance" of serving its citizens without him.
But Yang told CBS News he would also accept Cuomo's endorsement, if offered, in his bid for mayor.
"The city and the state have to be on the same page to deliver," Yang said in an interview this week. "I'll work with anyone who wants to help New York City."
Yang said he thinks current New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio shares blame with Cuomo for "mixed messages" andin New York's COVID-19 response. But when asked by CBS News if he'd accept an endorsement from de Blasio, if offered, Yang said he would.
"Bill has experience doing a job that I believe I'll have, I hope I'll have," Yang said. "You want to be able to take guidance from people, even if you might disagree with them on any number of things."
De Blasio's office told CBS News that the mayor is not planning to make an endorsement yet in the race. Responding to Yang's criticisms of the COVID response, de Blasio's office said: "Mayor de Blasio called early for a shelter-in-place, face coverings and closing schools, and Governor Cuomo disagreed. If Andrew Yang thinks the Mayor was wrong in calling for those actions early, then I'm truly glad Yang wasn't Mayor at the beginning of the pandemic."
CBS News also reached out to Cuomo's office for comment.
De Blasio, who was first elected in 2013, is term-limited. With New York's Democratic mayoral primary just two months away, Yang is leading major polls in a crowded race with eight major candidates. Helped by name recognition from his 2020 presidential primary run, one recent poll had Yang as the first choice of 22% of likely Democratic voters — second only to the 26% who said they haven't decided. (Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer — two candidates who, unlike Yang, have a track record in local politics — typically rank next in the polls.)
Whoever wins the Democratic primary on June 22 is heavily favored to win the general election vote for mayor in November. Right now, that person seems likely to work with Governor Cuomo, who has refused to resign while facing a state investigation of sexual harassment allegations and a federal probe of his administration's reporting of nursing home COVID-19 deaths.
Yang told CBS News that he supports the investigations and believes Cuomo should now let his lieutenant governor, Kathy Hochul, take over. "In my mind, you have a better chance at serving the needs of the people of New York if you can govern without being bogged down," he said.
One of Cuomo's harassment accusers, Charlotte Bennett, wrote an op-ed last week blasting Yang for a video that shows him laughing after a man made a vulgar remark about choking women. Yang later said he was "trying to be friendly" and condemned the man's comments. He said over the weekend that he hadn't read Bennett's op-ed but was "sorry she feels that way" and "would never endorse any mistreatment of women in any context."
Yang has no prior experience in government and has never voted in a New York City mayoral election. He launched his political campaigns after a career in startups and nonprofits, and is once again leveraging his status as an outsider. When asked about his strongest qualification for managing a crisis, Yang spoke about the "vision" he's had on the campaign trail for a different kind of leadership.
Yang's most famous policy proposal as a White House candidate was for universal basic income, suggesting the federal government give all Americans $1,000 a month. His mayoral campaign has offered a variation on that, which starts with giving about $2,000 a year to 500,000 New Yorkers in extreme poverty.
"In the context of New York City, we do not have that kind of capacity to be able to give everyone a certain amount of money every month," Yang told CBS News about the new proposal. Yang has not given specifics on how to pay for the $1 billion pilot program, and recently said he's "optimistic" that philanthropic commitments would supplement city funds.
Yang said he was approached for a mayoral run soon after ending his presidential campaign in February 2020, and chose to focus on national politics first. Yang and his family left New York City soon after the pandemic hit, relocating to a second home in New Paltz, about a two-hour drive north. His nonprofit Humanity Forward distributed $1 million in cash relief to about 1,000 households in the Bronx early in the pandemic.
Yang spent much of the year campaigning nationally for Joe Biden and other Democrats, and in the summer mentioned talks about a potential role in the Biden administration. Yang and his campaign did not give a specific breakdown of how much time he spent in New York City in 2020. He told CBS News he was "back and forth to the city throughout the year," noting that he made some appearances at CNN's New York studio while working as a political commentator.
Yang said his "job number one" in 2020 was helping to defeat former President Donald Trump before he turned his full attention to New York City.
"I spent that year trying to get rid of Donald Trump and then trying to get Chuck Schumer the Senate," he said.