Over the last several years, “Trust Black women” has become a rallying cry for Democrats — a nod to the vital role the voting bloc has played in electing Democratic candidates, as well as to the Black women who have expanded the party’s electorate and are pushing to reshape its political agenda.

In a campaign video released Sunday, New York mayoral candidate Maya Wiley leaned into this messaging, with a coalition of notable Black women urging voters to move beyond social media slogans and spur a historic change:

“It’s time to put your money where your mouth is, New York City, and elect the first Black woman to lead this city.”

The video features more than a dozen Black women endorsing Wiley’s run for mayor, including actresses Gabrielle Union, Tichina Arnold and Yvette Nicole Brown; author and professor Brittney Cooper; and political strategist Heather McGhee.

If elected, Wiley would be just the second Black person to run the city of New York (former mayor David Dinkins was the first, in 1989) and the first woman to serve as mayor. A New School professor and a former civil rights lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Wiley announced her campaign in October — her first bid for elected office. She has pointed to her lack of experience as an elected official as a strength, allowing her to bring much-needed change to a city that, like many others across the country, has struggled to weather the coronavirus pandemic.

Wiley has also not shied away from the potential historic nature of her campaign, framing her identity as inextricable from her goal of broad, systemic change.

“‘She doesn’t look like past mayors. She doesn’t think like past mayors.’ And I say yes — and that’s the point,” Wiley said in her speech announcing the launch of her campaign in October. The latest video adds another dimension to that messaging.

“Black women have been on the front lines of this pandemic. In hospitals, nursing homes, restaurants and schools,” the video opens, going on to describe the crucial role Black women have played in shaping American culture and political thought.

Maya Wiley in Brooklyn in September. (Julia Xanthos Liddy)
Maya Wiley in Brooklyn in September. (Julia Xanthos Liddy)

“Most of all, well, Black women keep saving democracy,” Brown and Arnold say over an image of former Georgia gubernatorial candidate and voting rights activist Stacey Abrams.

“We’ve heard from a lot of y’all about thanking Black women for doing it,” continues minister and theologian Eboni Marshall Turman.

“But here’s the thing: We aren’t looking for thanks. We’re looking to lead,” concludes makeup artist Cici Barnes.

Already, the NYC mayoral race has the most diverse field of candidates to ever run, with more people expected to announce their candidacy in the coming weeks. Wiley is among four women looking to interrupt a run of 109 male mayors in NYC. Other women joining Wiley in the packed race are former New York City sanitation commissioner Kathryn Garcia, former city veterans affairs commissioner Loree Sutton and nonprofit executive Dianne Morales. As Gotham Gazette wrote in December, all four are Democrats and first-time candidates for elected office. Like Wiley, Morales — an Afro-Latina who leads the advocacy group Phipps Neighborhoods — could also make history as the first woman of color elected mayor of New York. Sutton is also running a potential history-making campaign: If elected, she would be not only the first woman to run the city but also its first openly gay mayor.

The race includes several well-known names in the city’s political scene, such as Comptroller Scott Stringer and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, a former New York Police Department whistleblower. Former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang has also joined the race.

“We can’t build a new city if we follow the old rules,” Morales said at a December forum featuring the other three female candidates. “I believe it’s important to not just elect a woman but to elect a woman of color as the next mayor. We need to be committed to centering and elevating the voices and experiences of women of color.”

Christina Greer, an associate professor of political science at Fordham University and a political commentator, noted that historically, the cost of running a mayoral campaign in New York has been prohibitive for women, especially for Black women, who were unlikely to have the “deep well of a built-in donor base” to help fuel their campaigns.

Leading the largest city in the United States is a tough job by any measure, but the incoming mayor will inherit a long list of problems that have only been magnified by the pandemic. They will need to manage an ongoing public health crisis and a hobbled economy but also remedy a deeply segregated school system, a housing crisis and an aging transit system. The new mayor will also helm the nation’s largest and most expensive police force at a time when police budgets have drawn increased scrutiny, sparked in part by the high-profile police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.

Both Morales and Wiley lean left in their platforms and are proposing large-scale, systemic shifts, including reallocating money from the NYPD’s $11 billion budget. Wiley used to head the city’s Civilian Complaint Review Board, an oversight committee charged with reviewing complaints against the NYPD. A former counsel for New York Mayor Bill de Blasio (D), who famously ran on a platform of racial equity and police overhauls, Wiley stressed the need for increased policy accountability on her campaign website. She’s also pushing for reinvesting in public education and providing universal broadband to students, creating green jobs, expanding health insurance coverage to undocumented workers and those working cash-based jobs, and providing New York City residents with universal rent protection.

Greer thinks one of the biggest challenges Wiley and other mayoral candidates will face is a shortened campaign season — the primary will be held in June instead of September — meaning the many candidates will have less time to introduce themselves and make their case to voters. This will be challenging, Greer said, because voters may have political fatigue from the presidential race.

Still, the potential historic impact of the race can’t be denied.

“We are the largest city in the country and we’ve never elected a female in our leadership, so that alone would be massive,” Greer said. “Especially since so many Black women delivered in Georgia and across the country, it definitely seems like naturally there’s a moment for Black women. But whether or not that translates remains to be seen.”

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