NEW YORK - Income inequality, immigrant rights, and policing are huge issues in New York City’s Democratic mayoral primary contest, and Andrew Yang's tweet over the weekend about unlicensed street vendors touched on the wrong side of each of those issues for the party's progressive wing, eager to take down the race's current frontrunner.
On Sunday, Yang tweeted, "You know what I hear over and over again - that NYC is not enforcing rules against unlicensed street vendors. I’m for increasing licenses but we should do more for the retailers who are paying rent and trying to survive."
At an event in Queens on Monday, Comptroller Scott Stringer, also a Democratic candidate for mayor, said of Yang, "(he) wants to start a crackdown on vendors and send enforcement after the immigrant communities that powered us through the pandemic."
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Stringer’s comments called back to the NYPD’s November 2019 arrest of a woman selling churros at the Broadway Junction subway station in Manhattan, but Yang, speaking on Monday in Brooklyn, said he has no interest in repeating similar episodes should he be elected mayor.
"My goal is not to be punitive at all," Yang said. "I want folks frankly who are in violation of something to be able to cure it, and that would apply to unlicensed vendors as well."
Yang, who has led recent polls, said he wants to make it easier for street vendors to get licensed and take advantage of the city's support.
"I regret that I took on such a frankly nuanced and complicated issue on that medium. It wasn't the right medium for it," Yang said.
Democratic strategist Jake Dilemani says Yang's position further differentiates him from the more race’s progressive candidates who are struggling to break out as the campaigns for the June 22nd primary election kick into high gear.
"Scott Stringer, Maya Wiley, Dianne Morales are basically sucking up the oxygen in that lane, and if you're Andrew Yang, that's not necessarily where you're getting your votes necessarily, and there's a whole bunch of other people out there in the Democratic primary electorate, and their votes are up for grabs," Dilemani says.
50% of the city’s Democratic voters remained undecided as of late March, according to a poll from Fontas Advisors and Core Decision Analytics.