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BROOKLYN, N.Y. — Just as Andrew Yang admitted defeat in the New York City mayor’s race on Tuesday evening, some members of his inner circle had their knives out.
Multiple sources who worked on Yang’s surprisingly successful upstart presidential bid last year told The Uprising they tried to advise Yang on his mayoral campaign and were rejected in favor of Tusk Strategies, a New York City lobbying firm. The sources placed blame on the Tusk team for Yang’s disappointing finish.
“For months, several senior staffers from the presidential campaign offered guidance to Tusk Strategies without response in regards to earned media and digital that were largely ignored,” a senior adviser from Yang’s presidential bid, requested anonymity to candidly discuss internal deliberations, told The Uprising. “This loss is being squarely placed on this firm.”
Yang did not respond to a request for comment.
A second adviser from his presidential bid echoed the notion that members of the 2020 presidential team — who helped Yang make a strong showing after beginning the race as a distant longshot — were pushed aside in favor of Tusk Strategies.
“In the lead into this thing, you had a lot of the presidential team who gave these guys advice,” this adviser said. “Right after the election in 2020, all of a sudden, I guess Tusk got in there and, boom, they were going their own way.”
Tusk Strategies, which is led by veteran political strategist Bradley Tusk, played a unique role in Yang’s mayoral campaign. Yang’s co-campaign managers were both employees of the firm. Along with his press secretary, policy director, and several senior advisers. The relationship led to questions during the race about whether Tusk’s lobbying clients would gain special access to a Yang administration. Tusk vehemently denied the allegations.
The possibility of Yang in City Hall seemed quite real for much of this campaign as he led polls of the crowded field in the crucial Democratic primary. However, in the weeks before Tuesday’s voting, Yang’s standing plummeted. The former senior adviser to his presidential campaign attributed much of that drop — and the contrast with his performance in last year’s election — to Tusk’s team.
“They took something that several people spent years building to bring it crashing down in five months,” the senior adviser said.
Yang, who used the simple phrase “MATH” as a key slogan in his presidential bid, which was largely focused on a national universal basic income program, referenced his affinity for numbers in his concession speech on Tuesday night.
“You all know I am a numbers guy. I am someone who traffics in what’s happening by the numbers,” Yang said. “And I am not going to be the next mayor of New York City based upon the numbers that have come in tonight. I am conceding this race.”
Yang went on to note that, with the new ranked choice voting system, the final winner of the Democratic primary may not be revealed for weeks. With the strong Democratic majority in New York, the winner of this primary campaign will almost certainly make it to City Hall. Based on the early returns so far, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, a bitter rival of Yang’s, is leading the field.
According to the senior adviser from Yang’s presidential bid, who was not part of the mayoral campaign team, much of Yang’s fall was attributable to the staffers from Tusk. The former senior adviser specifically blamed one of Yang’s co-campaign managers, Chris Coffey, who leads Tusk Strategies’ New York and New Jersey practices, for lashing out at the media and trying to direct the activity of the “Yang Gang,” the candidate’s infamous social media fan base.
“It was clear when Chris Coffey spent more time virtue signaling to the Yang Gang and calling reporters liars that this was an effort reflecting a clear contrast from the first campaign,” the former senior adviser said.
Yang’s presidential run was fueled by that support on social networks in addition to an unconventional media-centric strategy filled with freewheeling press appearances. The ex-senior adviser argued that his mayoral campaign became something far different under the Tusk team’s guidance.
“The concept of ‘let Yang be Yang’ was clearly lost between 2020 and 2021,” they said.
According to the former adviser, staffers from the presidential campaign team tracked a massive loss in engagement on Yang’s pages on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube. The ex-adviser also said the Tusk team sidelined one of Yang’s most high profile surrogates, stand-up comedy megastar Dave Chappelle.
“Dave Chappelle offered to do free shows,” the former adviser said.”Tusk said no. They found him too controversial.”
Representatives for Chappelle did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Both of the former advisers to Yang’s presidential bid also said his campaign manager from the presidential run, Zach Graumann, was sidelined during the mayoral campaign. (While Graumann was on Yang’s mayoral campaign team, he was a senior adviser, a steep downgrade from his previous position leading the campaign.)
“He seemed like he was pushed out and it was all Bradley Tusk all the time, and there you go,” the second former Yang adviser said, adding that Graumann’s diminished role was “odd” since he acted "like an aide-de-camp” and often travelled with Yang during last year’s race. Graumann did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The ex-adviser also described how some on the former presidential campaign team advised Yang that a New York mayoral bid was “the wrong race for you.” Instead, they urged him to use the standing he gained during the presidential race to “get in front of” President Biden and “go for a Cabinet or sub-Cabinet position.”
“I don’t know what happened or who got his ear,” the former Yang adviser said, noting that Yang was considering their counsel until Tusk took over around the end of last year.
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