Maya Wiley has spent a lifetime pushing through challenges. She was just nine years old when her father, civil rights leader Dr. George Alvin Wiley, died in a tragic accident. She persevered, attending Dartmouth College, then Columbia Law School. Now, the civil rights lawyer wants to lead New York City.
Her bona fides encompass roles with the NAACP LDF, ACLU, and the Open Society Foundations. She also founded and led the Center for Social Inclusion, a non-profit dedicated to addressing structural racism.
Wiley formerly served as Counsel to New York’s current mayor, Bill de Blasio, and was volunteer chair of the Civilian Complaint Review Board, which seeks to hold police officers accountable. If her campaign is successful, she would become the city’s first woman mayor and second Black mayor in history. To date, the Democrat has garnered a lengthy list of endorsements. Wiley lives in Brooklyn with her partner and two daughters.
This interview has been lightly edited for space and clarity.
ESSENCE: Primary Election Day is June 22. Why do you want to be the next mayor of New York City?
Maya Wiley: I have devoted my life to the causes of racial and social justice and have been at that fight from every possible angle. I never expected to be a politician or to run for office. I thought I would be an advocate my whole career and fight from outside the system. After spending some time in City Hall where I advocated on behalf of Minority/Women-Owned Business Enterprises (MWBE), I know it’s past time for New York to have a civil rights advocate as a mayor. I know that this city needs someone who will ensure a strong, equitable future for all of our residents and make it easier to live and raise a family here, and that someone is me.
ESSENCE: What skills, talents and qualifications would you bring to the role if elected?
Wiley: I’m the best person for this job because of my experience, my values and my vision. My candidacy and administration alone will provide plenty of inspiration to millions of New Yorkers. [If elected] as the first woman—and first woman of color—to serve as mayor, I am going to redefine and reimagine the power structures of our city the second I walk through the doors of City Hall. The breadth and diversity of my experience makes me ideally suited to lead on a broad range of issues, to wrangle disparate bureaucracies and special interests, and deliver transformative change for the people of NYC. As we emerge from this pandemic, we cannot afford to go back to where we were in January 2020. We need to emerge stronger, more inclusive, more equitable and more just and fair than ever before. I am the candidate that can deliver the bold, transformative change we need right now. The stakes are too high and we cannot rely on outdated solutions and status quo thinking. This crisis requires visionary leadership and thinking.
ESSENCE: Name the top issues you believe are facing New York City and its residents right now? How would you begin to go about solving them?
Wiley: On day one of my administration, I will prioritize jobs, housing and criminal justice reform. These issues impact women and women of color the most, and all New Yorkers.
No single issue facing our city is more pressing, more urgent or more complex than the need for safe, livable and affordable housing. We are in an affordability crisis in our city, a crisis that existed long before the pandemic but has now accelerated over the past year. Nearly 400,000 New Yorkers are on the verge of eviction and over a million are rent-burdened and heading in that direction, with the burden falling especially heavy on Black and brown families. Our city is simply too expensive for folks to live, especially for the essential workers—the healthcare heroes, the grocery store clerks, the civil servants—who kept our city going during the pandemic. We must take real steps to make affordable housing actually affordable in this city. My housing plan will curb homelessness, guarantee affordable rent, reinvest in and renew NYCHA and enable homeownership and empower generational wealth-building for marginalized communities.
Returning women to the workforce, especially women of color, is a huge economic imperative. Over the past year, Black women have been forced out of the workplace due to a lack of support and protections and a galling lack of affordable care options for our children and families. A Bureau of Labor Statistics survey showed that Black and Latina women lost jobs, while white women made gains. I will return women of color to the workplace and center them as essential to our economic future. My “New Deal New York” plan seeks to invest billions of dollars into our city’s economy, supports MWBE small businesses, strengthens worker protections and creates 100,000 new jobs, especially in the care sector, which is overwhelmingly staffed by women of color.
For years, New Yorkers have been told that more cops and more policing will lead to safer communities, but over-policing has instead eroded trust in New York City and has created extreme distrust. This distrust, coupled with a rise in shootings and other crimes, has created a situation in New York City where communities that want safer neighborhoods can’t trust the police who are assigned the task of doing it. And it hasn’t made us any safer. We need a top to bottom restructuring of the NYPD and that begins with strong civilian oversight at the front end of policing—policies that make clear what policing is and is not and what conduct will not be tolerated. We need to end the over-policing of poor communities of color and invest in programs that tackle the root causes of crime.
I will shift away from the “containment and control” policing model which has failed our communities of color and implement a problem-solving policing model that relies on partnerships within the community and city government to prevent and reduce crime. This approach focuses on working with community members to identify the underlying conditions of crime and public safety issues and drawing in and working with other governmental partners to solve them. NYC residents are the experts and know what the public safety issues are in their communities.
Therefore, we must source solutions from community members and invest in the appropriate agencies that can solve them. I am committed to reallocating $1 billion from the New York City Police Department to invest in the substantive alternatives that our communities need to keep us safe from gun violence by ensuring that we have a way for communities—through a participatory justice fund— to direct resources to afterschool programs, trauma-informed care, more workforce development programs, more crisis intervention, and other things communities have been asking for because they have the wisdom to know what the problems are.
ESSENCE: New York has long been a city of diverse people and cultures. In your opinion, are there ways to make the landscape even more inclusive? As a Black woman candidate, what would that mean in terms of representation?
Wiley: In one of the most diverse cities in the country, it’s important for young people, especially little girls, to grow up knowing that they can lead. But my candidacy means more than representational change: being a Black woman also makes for a better mayor. Black women get stuff done because they know how to walk in the shoes of others and bring empathy, courage and clarity to their work. My lived experiences give me great insight into the varied challenges all Black and brown New Yorkers are facing. As mayor, I will center and incorporate the lived realities that come with existing in between multiple identities. I will advocate on behalf of all people regardless of their race, class, gender, sexuality, age and able-bodiedness. As Mayor of New York City, I will ensure that the needs of all New Yorkers are met because that’s how you lead effectively, that’s how you uplift the people who have the least but struggle the most, and that’s the only way we will truly recover everyone from this crisis.