Of all the mayoral candidates, Andrew Yang is the only one with a legitimate claim to having his own Gang.
And while that has its advantages, it has also cast Yang in a harsh light at times.
The Yang Gang — his crew of rabid supporters who defend him online and attack detractors — can be an unruly bunch and have come under criticism of late for, among other things, posting a video of Yang laughing along as a man asks him: “Do you choke b—-es,” calling a rival campaign operative racist and telling one campaign’s spokeswoman she has “vanilla sex.”
Other questionable statements include calling mayoral candidate Maya Wiley “the Kamala of the East” — a reference to Vice President Kamala Harris, who is also Black; telling New York State Sen. Alessandra Biaggi that her “sex life sucks so bad” she has to “slander Yang;” and likening one Jewish campaign operative to an insect.
The discussion about what Yang himself should or shouldn’t do when it comes to policing his followers comes as the former presidential candidate and businessman leads in all recent polling for New York City’s top job.
Ken Sherrill, a professor emeritus of political science at Hunter College, said that policing followers who often aren’t trained in the norms of political discourse has increasingly become a fraught issue as more and more of that discourse moves online and away from face-to-face interactions.
“People who are not experienced in politics and become active in politics without being trained are much harder to control,” he said. “But it’s the responsibility of the candidate or the campaign to teach these people — who they don’t know. I feel sorry for any candidate who’s got supporters like this. But that doesn’t mean the candidate doesn’t have any responsibility for teaching those supporters.”
Trying to control loyal backers who, rhetorically at least, can seem out of control became especially important during President Donald Trump’s administration. Trump actively encouraged some of the bad behavior too, which many argue led to the insurrection at the Capital three months ago.
The Yang Gang is different, and Yang hasn’t exactly given his followers a free pass. He and his campaign workers occasionally have called them out, with campaign co-manager Chris Coffey last month admonishing one follower for attacking a reporter on Twitter.
The supporter, Sarah Josephine — her Twitter handle @SarahJo35135067 appears next to an icon of a blue cap often used to denote Yang fans — took a dig about some critical “reporting” on Yang, which prompted Coffey to jump in.
“It’s a free country, but this sh– is annoying, a waste of time and actively not helpful to the cause you say you are trying to help,” he wrote.
According to Yang spokesman Jake Sporn, the campaign also regularly reaches out to Yang supporters online to remind them of the campaign’s values statement.
Yang has stepped in when his Gang steps out of line as well.
“Reminder to be kind to journalists who are doing their jobs, even if you disagree with them,” he wrote in a March tweet. “If you’re a supporter of mine please act in a way that would positively reflect on me and our values.”
But Yang’s critics — including those running for mayor against him — claim his efforts to rein in the peanut gallery haven’t been nearly as forceful as they should be.
“You can’t claim to run a positive campaign while ignoring the vitriol constantly spewed by your own supporters,” said Tyrone Stevens, a spokesman for city Comptroller Scott Stringer, who’s also running for mayor. “It’s pure hypocrisy from Mr. Yang and the opposite of leadership.”
Some who’ve criticized Yang publicly even worry about virtual attacks eventually coming home to haunt them.
Julia Savel, a spokeswoman for mayoral contender Maya Wiley, declined to comment for this article out of fear for her own safety. After Yang came under fire for laughing in response to a man who asked if he choked women, Wiley criticized her rival for it and so did Savel, who was quickly targeted on Twitter.
“idk why people have to go through all this,” tweeted @siddcology. “just say you have vanilla sex and move it.”
The person behind that Twitter handle could not be reached for comment. Other Yang supporters who’ve made off-color remarks on social media either did not respond, or were not reachable by the Daily News.
Others question whether support online is even coming from “real” people and have raised the question of whether many of Yang’s supporters on social media might be fewer people who are taking on multiple roles online.
“I don’t accept the premise that they’re real,” said Stu Loeser, a political consultant who’s working for Ray McGuire’s mayoral campaign. “They are obviously people writing tweets. They seem to be people in America who are taking on perhaps multiple online personae. Why? I don’t know.”
Loeser cited an analysis by the market research firm SparkToro to back his perspective up. The analysis concluded that more than 28% of Yang’s Twitter followers are likely fake. It also found that about 15% of McGuire’s are likely phony, as are about 19% of Wiley’s.
Loeser, who’s worked for both New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, said that whoever they are, their online activities illustrate something that’s also played out with Yang himself in the real world.
He pointed to a photo-op Yang took advantage of in March, posing for cameras standing atop a pile of salt at a city-run facility — a move Loeser described as trespassing.
“Fundamentally, this is not what a serious candidate does. A serious candidate does not trespass in a city salt facility to get a photo,” he said. “He’s a fundamentally unserious person with bad judgement.”
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