Gotham Gazette: Maya Wiley Rallies Black Women to Make Her the First to Become Mayor of New York

“Black women get it done,” Maya Wiley, the former counsel to Mayor Bill de Blasio and 2021 mayoral candidate, declared in a January 22 video that featured a coalition of prominent Black women who are supporting her campaign. It was the launch of her formal effort to woo a core constituency in the Democratic base who time and again have turned out in higher rates in elections and could be a crucial factor for Wiley to become the first Black woman ever elected Mayor of New York City. 

It’s become a common refrain that Black women are at the heart of the Democratic Party and will reliably cast a vote for a Democrat, regardless of the candidate, rather than a Republican, which is why they’re also often taken for granted. But Black women are not a monolith and the Democratic primary in New York City is a far more complicated undertaking for any contender, particularly with ranked-choice voting at play for the first time in a citywide race. Candidates will have to cobble together different blocs of voters as they find themselves competing in the most diverse mayoral field in city history.

Wiley, a civil rights activist and attorney, is one of several Black women in the mayoral race but is by far the most prominent and best funded, and she is among the top tier of candidates overall. Since serving under the current mayor, who was powered to victory in 2013 by Black voters and white progressives, Wiley has led the Civilian Complaint Review Board, a police oversight agency, and was a professor at the New School. She also built a national following as an MSNBC commentator, giving her a fair share of name recognition, especially among white liberals, when she launched her bid for mayor. Prior to working for de Blasio, Wiley had an extensive career as a civil rights attorney with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, among others, and, briefly, as a prosecutor in the office of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.

She has sought to present herself as one of the more progressive candidates in this year’s mayoral race, with a heavy emphasis on police reform and accountability, but has often taken a measured, unspecific approach to issues, though her campaign has begun releasing more detailed policy plans, including on job-creation and the “care economy,” which Wiley has stressed is heavily reliant on Black women. If she wins, she would be the first woman, and only the second Black person to become the city’s top executive.

“I am unapologetically a Black woman,” Wiley said in a recent appearance before the Association for a Better New York, where she unveiled the “care economy” plan, when she was asked about her experiences in the several positions she has held. “I am unapologetically an activist. I’m unapologetically a partner, because I don’t believe activism is about rolling over. I believe activism is about calling together. And so listen, learn, lead in partnership.”

Since its launch in January, the “Black Women for Maya” coalition has grown to more than 800 members, according to Wiley’s campaign. It includes accomplished actors such as Tichina Arnold, Gabrielle Union, and Yvette Nicole Brown, several established academics including Deborah Archer, Brittney Cooper, and Melissa Harris-Perry, political commentators like Heather McGhee, organizers, activists and more. Over the last few weeks, the coalition has been holding weekly volunteer events to continue building support and raise funds for Wiley. Earlier this month, Wiley hosted a fireside chat to take questions from potential voters and coalition members. Her campaign is also built with Black women in charge including her campaign manager, Maya Rupert, and her digital director, Tericka Lambert.

“I am honored to have received the support of so many of my fellow strong, Black women,” Wiley said in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “They see this campaign as one that can be transformative for this city and their lives, but one that also has the experience and understanding needed to lead us out of the crises we face, which also disproportionately hurt women, and women of color. As mayor, not only can I empathize with what our city’s women, and especially women of color are going through, I feel it too, because I’ve lived it.”

“Black women know that in every crisis, we are always the cavalry,” she continued. “We are the essential workers of this economy, the backbone of the Democratic party, the care-takers of our communities, and the creators of our country’s arts and culture. While this campaign is for the betterment of all New Yorkers, our strength and power is rooted in the many Black women that lead it, shape it, and support it. Our campaign is a growing movement, and I am running to be the next Mayor of New York City because I want every last Black woman and girl in this city to see themselves in the seat of power.”

In the last competitive Democratic primary in 2013, out of the 645,902 Democrats who cast a vote, 181,483 or 28% were Black voters, according to an analysis by the CUNY Mapping Service. Bill de Blasio won the largest share of Black voters, about 32.8% in that primary. In the 2021 Democratic primary, Black voters are again expected to be between a quarter and a third of the electorate, meaning Black women voters could account for at least 13% of primary voters, likely more, as Black women are typically well more than half of the Black Democratic vote.

On Friday, Wiley was endorsed by 1199 SEIU, the city’s largest labor union, which represents hundreds of thousands of health-care workers, many of whom are women of color. The union was instrumental in helping de Blasio win the primary in 2013. “This is what we mean when we say support Black women,” Gabby Seay, 1199’s political director, told the New York Times.

“1199ers make history because this is a union made up of the people who always have but rarely got credit – Black women,” Wiley tweeted about the endorsement, responding to a supportive tweet by Seay. “And Latinas too!” The candidate has added the “#WinwithBlackWomen” hashtag to her Twitter profile.