Or at least he’s considering it.
New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson announced in an email 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 HIV-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.”
Johnson spoke to reporters near the Brooklyn Bridge on 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 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 (NYCHA) among the main problems that need to be addressed in the city, 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 on Monday morning that Johnson would start hosting fundraising house parties beginning in March. One of his potential opponents in the 2021 race, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, is also planning to host similar parties, according to the Times.
“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 replace 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, while Eric L. 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 chair of the House Democratic Caucus following the ousting of Queens/ Bronx Congressmember Joe Crowley, who was soundly defeated 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.
The speaker 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,” Johnson 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.
“I’m really open. I’m open about my HIV status, I’m open about the fact that I’m sober from drugs and alcohol for nine and a half years, and I’m open about the struggles that I’ve faced,” he said. “So I haven’t tried to play things in a cute way. I try to live my life the way I live my life and this is another step in that direction.”
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