In the intensifying race for mayor of New York City, numerous endorsements have trickled out, but few with the star power of the one jointly given to Raymond J. McGuire last week: Jay-Z, Diddy and Nas.
For Mr. McGuire, one of the highest-ranking and longest-serving Black executives on Wall Street, the endorsement from the three entrepreneurial giants of the hip-hop world was meant to reinforce a message: He was not merely a candidate who emerged from, and was favored by, big business; he could be a mayor to heal New York from its financial crisis and its racial inequities.
Six months ago, Mr. McGuire entered the crowded race for mayor at the urging of several top business leaders, who hoped that he could translate his success on Wall Street into a viable candidacy for mayor, and be a more business-friendly choice than most of the other major candidates.
He quickly raised more than $7.4 million to fund his campaign, and a super PAC has raised another $4 million. He has also spent far more on political advertising than any other candidate: $1.2 million, with the super PAC spending another $1.7 million.
On Sunday, Representative Gregory W. Meeks, the chairman of the Queens Democratic Party, endorsed Mr. McGuire, in what some of his campaign aides are calling their “Clyburn moment,” a reference to an endorsement given by Representative James E. Clyburn of South Carolina to Joseph R. Biden; the endorsement is widely considered to have helped save Mr. Biden’s presidential campaign after his poor performances in two early primaries.
But with two months until the June 22 primary, Mr. McGuire’s campaign has yet to catch fire, and his goal of becoming the city’s second Black mayor is entering a critical phase.
There is no question that New York City faces a series of severe challenges as it emerges from the pandemic. But Mr. McGuire has so far been unable to persuade voters, according to early polling, that he is best suited to guide the city’s recovery.
Other Democratic candidates have far more experience in city government, including the city comptroller, Scott M. Stringer; the Brooklyn borough president, Eric Adams; the former sanitation commissioner, Kathryn Garcia; and the former head of the Civilian Complaint Review Board, Maya Wiley.
Mr. McGuire is essentially hoping to use his corporate background — much like the billionaire Michael R. Bloomberg did in 2001, after the Sept. 11 attack — to convince New Yorkers that a different type of nonpolitical leadership is needed in a post-crisis city.
At the same time, Mr. McGuire is trying to broaden his appeal beyond business leaders. Earlier this month, Mr. McGuire appeared in Minneapolis outside the courthouse where the former police officer Derek Chauvin is on trial in the killing of George Floyd, praying for justice with Mr. Floyd’s family. Last month, he signed a letter with dozens of the most prominent Black business executives in the country calling on companies to fight restrictive voting laws being pushed by Republicans in more than 40 states.
“Now more than ever, we need a mayor who can unify, who can bring together every walk of life, every race, every community and every industry,” Mr. McGuire said on Sunday.
He used the language of New York’s first and only Black mayor, David N. Dinkins, calling the city a “beautiful mosaic” and promising to revive it.
Mr. McGuire also referenced fellow candidates who had been “running for decades” or others who were “gimmicking as if this were a game show.”
On the streets, Mr. McGuire, who is 6-foot-4, seems at ease, mixing jokes with passers-by with more substantive discussions with a community activist about his plans for young people.
“All that has to happen between now and June is more people getting to know and meet Ray,” said Assemblyman Robert J. Rodriguez, a Democrat from East Harlem who has endorsed Mr. McGuire and joined him at campaign events. “Some of the other candidates like Yang had the benefit of a presidential campaign to help solve that problem. If that’s our biggest issue, then it’s just really a race against time.”
Indeed, Mr. McGuire has begun to step up the pace of his in-person campaigning, following the example of Andrew Yang, the presumptive front-runner who has aggressively courted voters in person during the pandemic.
But it is Mr. Meeks’s endorsement that may carry the most weight among engaged voters, particularly in the Black community, whose support he and Mr. Adams, a founder of 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care, are competing for. A group of 150 supporters from East Asian, South Asian and Black communities gathered on the steps of Queens Borough Hall for the endorsement.
“Meeks represents Black homeowners who turn out to vote in primaries, have a nuanced understanding of policing and economics and a clear picture of what they want New York City and their community to look like,” said Christina Greer, an associate professor of political science at Fordham University. “They are not looking for the most progressive candidate.”
Asked about Mr. McGuire’s performance in early polls, Mr. Meeks said he was unconcerned because many voters remained undecided.
“This is the beginning,” Mr. Meeks said. “I refer everyone back to eight years ago. At this time, Bill de Blasio was nowhere to be seen on a polling site.” Mr. de Blasio later staged a surprise victory.
Unlike Mr. Adams and other candidates more established in New York politics, Mr. McGuire must “simultaneously introduce people to who he is and articulate his vision,” Professor Greer said, and he is trying to do so by using the “shortcut of celebrity to introduce himself and then talk about his policies.”
He is also using television ads, spending far more than the rest of the field combined.
Some ads relate Mr. McGuire’s rise from his childhood in Dayton, Ohio, where he was raised by a single mother. He would attend private school before going on to attain three degrees at Harvard University and launching a career in investment banking on Wall Street. Other ads emphasize that Mr. McGuire believes his management experience is what’s needed to help the city recover, but that he never forgot where he came from in spite of his wealth.
Other ads showcase his endorsement from Gwen Carr, the mother of Eric Garner, a man who died after being placed in a chokehold by the police on Staten Island in 2014, or highlight his “comeback plan” to create 500,000 jobs, support small and minority-owned businesses and promote early childhood education.
The ads do not make much of his ties to his backers on Wall Street, or his relationships with various celebrities. At a virtual fund-raiser earlier this year, Mr. McGuire held court with Jeff Bewkes, the former chief executive of Time Warner; the actor and comedian Steve Martin; Peter Malkin, the developer whose family controls the Empire State Building; and Charles Oakley, the retired New York Knicks star.
The road to the joint endorsement began when Jay-Z called Mr. McGuire last year to ask for help with starting a fund to benefit Black and Latino people. The rapper and entrepreneur wanted Mr. McGuire to head the enterprise.
Mr. McGuire told Jay-Z that he had a different plan in mind, divulging his thoughts about running for mayor of New York City.
“I was like, man, there goes that,” Jay-Z said in the video unveiling the endorsement.
Steve Stoute, a former record executive who heads an ad agency, also endorsed Mr. McGuire on the video with Jay-Z, Diddy and Nas.
“If we don’t get this right, we got problems,” Mr. Stoute said in an interview. “You need somebody to come in who’s been successful at building something before, at fixing a problem. Politicians manage the status quo.”
For now, Mr. McGuire is busy managing his image with average voters. Instead of doing his usual Friday night virtual chat from his home on Central Park West, Mr. McGuire held the forum from Jamaica, Queens, where he was greeting voters at the AirTrain.
On Wednesday, he was supposed to spend the day with advisers and his finance team, but the campaign called a last-minute audible and sent the candidate up to Harlem for a rally to honor Betty Park, the owner of Manna’s soul food restaurant, and to call for an end to anti-Asian violence.
Mr. McGuire wore a backpack and a face mask, and worked the crowd before the event handing out fliers. He talked about his plan to create affordable housing and keep the neighborhood safe after it experienced an increase in gun violence during the pandemic. With Mr. McGuire already standing on one side of Ms. Park, Mr. Adams suddenly appeared and stood on the other.
Brian Benjamin, a state senator representing the area who is running for city comptroller, spoke at the rally and was surprised to see Mr. Adams and Mr. McGuire.
“I said, ‘What’s going on?’” Mr. Benjamin said. “It is very rare to have this kind of mayoral presence.”
Mr. McGuire may have to continue to be visible at small community events over the next two months if he expects to win, according to Lloyd Williams, president of the Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce.
“He has major corporate supporters and money. What he doesn’t have is a history of working closely with the communities he wants to represent,” said Mr. Williams, who hasn’t endorsed in the race. “That means he has to spend more time, but he’s running out of time.”
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