Johnson looking at ‘people-powered mayoral run’

Council Speaker Corey Johnson chats with the press near the Brooklyn Bridge Monday afternoon about his exploration of a mayoral campaign. Photo by Matt Tracy

BY MATT TRACY | He’s running!

Or at least he’s considering it.

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson announced in an e-mail to his supporters on Monday morning that he is “thinking about running for mayor of New York City” in 2021— and he’s taking a page out of the progressive playbook to make his case.

Johnson, who is the first H.I.V.-positive person and first gay man to be speaker, acknowledged that it is “a big decision, I know, but I love this city and am committed to making it a better place for all.”

The 36-year-old said he will accept a maximum of $250 in contributions per individual and is refusing to take money from lobbyists, corporate PACs or real estate developers and their employees, signaling an early intention to steer clear of the big-money controversies that have dogged politicians in recent years.

“As much as I love New York, we are capable of so much more,” said Johnson, who is serving his second term representing Greenwich Village, Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen. “And New Yorkers are fed up with our pay-to-play political system. They know that real estate developers and lobbyists have had too much sway for too long.”

He also sent out a tweet Monday morning announcing, “It’s a big decision, but I am thinking about a potential people-powered mayoral run,” and reiterating that he would take “zero $” from the above-mentioned groups and cap all contributions at $250.

Johnson spoke to reporters near the Brooklyn Bridge Monday afternoon, where he explained that he opted to implement his strict campaign-finance limitations in order to demonstrate transparency.

“The whole point of this is to show that no one is going to have influence,” he said in his first public comments since announcing a potential 2021 bid. “We have such a good public matching system in New York City that $250 is going to get an eight-to-one public match. I think I can do this on small dollars.”

Candidates are legally allowed to accept individual contributions of up to $2,000.

Johnson pointed to income inequality, the crumbling subway system and the serious issues surrounding the New York City Housing Authority among the main problems the city must address, but said he did not want to get too deep into the issues this early. For now, he cited his own life experience and his existing body of work as a city councilmember and speaker to illustrate why he would be a serious contender in the race.

“I grew up in public housing, my family had no money, and I came to New York at 19 years old with two bags,” Johnson said. “I never thought being speaker was possible. I never thought about standing here in front of you all.”

The New York Times reported Monday morning that Johnson would start hosting fundraising house parties beginning in March. One of his potential opponents in the 2021 race, City Comptroller Scott Stringer, is also planning to host similar parties, the Times said.

“It’s just going to be close friends that have always supported me,” Johnson said of the house parties. “These are going to be low-dollar events. The maximum I’m taking from individuals is $250, so I’m going to try to pack as many people into the room as possible.”

Johnson could face a crowded field of contenders in the race to succeed Mayor Bill de Blasio, who is one year into his second and final term. Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr., has declared his candidacy for mayor and has an estimated $803,208 in his war chest for 2021, according to city Campaign Finance Board records. Eric Adams, the Brooklyn borough president, who has made his ambitions clear, has piled up an estimated balance of $1.8 million. Adams trails only Stringer, who has an estimated $2.3 million on hand. Johnson showed $88,481 on hand as of last Friday, though he told reporters that his contributions have increased by “a lot” following his announcement.

Congressmember Hakeem Jeffries of Brooklyn has often been mentioned as a potential mayoral candidate, but he ruled himself out of the last race and is now consumed by increased responsibilities in Washington as chairperson of the House Democratic Caucus, following the defeat of Queens/Bronx Congressmember Joe Crowley in last June’s primary by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, who Queens County Politics reported is also exploring a mayoral run, has a balance of $308,656, which is fifth on the list of candidates with 2021 citywide election accounts.

Johnson pointed to the “huge stockpiles of money” amassed by other candidates and said he needs to be prepared to keep up with them.

“I think it’s going to be very, very hard,” he said. “It’s not going to be easy to get thousands of contributions at $250. It’s going to take a lot of hustle and a lot of legwork.”

Should he decide to run, Johnson is confident that he can pull it off because he believes his transparent approach will resonate with New Yorkers who have lost trust in the political process.

Veteran political consultant Hank Sheinkopf said Johnson’s announcement that he won’t take contributions greater than $250 immediately sets him apart from the rest of the field.

“It continues to add to the excitement that is only his, and to [his] stylistic differences that are very unique,” Sheinkopf said. “People want a populist with brains. In real life, he’s very fresh. Most politicians seem pretty tired. And he’s not tired — he’s not a used car.

“I think it’s exciting, it’s interesting. It’s going to add a new dimension if he runs. [Scott] Stringer is the progressive establishment candidate, and Corey is the progressive anti-establishment candidate. Stringer comes from a much more traditional path to power. Corey’s is a much faster ascent, greater intensity.”

— With reporting
by Lincoln Anderson

4 Responses to Johnson looking at ‘people-powered mayoral run’

  1. Look at how Johnson helps developers, landlords and REBNY (the Real Estate Board). That hasn't changed. Remember that Quinn also pledged she would not take money from real estate, but that changed once she got into office and got greedy.

  2. Shouldn't he accomplish something as Speaker first? or as Public Advocate? Save a garden, or save a small business. Anything… as… something, but as of yet, there's no reason to vote for him in some other position when he hasn't done anything in his current job(s).

  3. I used to be a fan but after his peddling of the hate crime narrative of the BBQ CHAIR incident that got Bayna El-Amin 9 years in prison. He can forget my vote. ERIC Adams all the way !

  4. What would be a game changer for Johnson to win Mayor? Do what every past Speaker refused to do , stand up to
    REBNY and pass legislation to save the small businesses and jobs. Every past Speaker has join in rigging the system to stop any legislation giving rights to small business owners when their leases expire. Every one lost big running for mayor because they could not get the city's immigrant community votes. Why, because the ethnic immigrants families own the majority of small businesses and create the vast majority of jobs for resident NYers. Without the ethnic vote
    the young white gay guy from Village follows past Speakers and can't win.

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