Ms. Wiley, who once led the city’s police oversight board, would enter a mayoral race that has been reshaped by Black Lives Matter protests.
July 28, 2020
Maya D. Wiley, a former top counsel for Mayor Bill de Blasio, is leaving her role as a contributor on MSNBC and NBC News to explore a run for mayor of New York City, an official at MSNBC confirmed on Tuesday.
Ms. Wiley, a Black former chairwoman of the city’s police oversight agency, would be entering a mayor’s race that has been reshaped by recent Black Lives Matter protests and the coronavirus pandemic.
If she runs, she would likely be a formidable candidate as she vied to become the first female mayor of New York City.
Ms. Wiley, a civil rights lawyer whose father was a well-known civil rights leader, could distinguish herself as a top-tier candidate by focusing on race and criminal justice issues; she served roughly a year as chairwoman of the Civilian Complaint Review Board.
She has worked as a professor at The New School and regularly appeared on MSNBC, grabbing the attention of its left-leaning viewership, an important demographic in a Democratic primary in New York.
Her departure from MSNBC and NBC News, where she has appeared on television as a legal analyst, was confirmed by a spokeswoman at MSNBC.
But she has also faced criticism over her time at the civilian review board and her work for Mr. de Blasio, which included an instance where she had argued that the mayor’s email communications with certain outside advisers were protected because the advisers were acting as “agents of the city.”
Thousands of pages of those emails were eventually released in what became an embarrassing episode for the mayor.
Ms. Wiley would enter a crowded primary race for mayor next June. Several Democratic candidates are already raising money, including Eric Adams, the Brooklyn borough president who is Black; Corey Johnson, the City Council speaker who is white; and Scott M. Stringer, the city comptroller who is white. Some have called on Jumaane Williams, the city’s public advocate who is Black, to run as a forceful voice against police brutality, but he says he does not plan to run.
But Ms. Wiley is well known. She already has more than 330,000 followers on Twitter, compared with nearly 8,000 for Mr. Stringer’s personal account. She could catch up on fund-raising by tapping the national audience she found on MSNBC, said Christina M. Greer, an associate professor of political science at Fordham University.
As for her voting base, Ms. Wiley could gain support in Brooklyn, where she lives, and in liberal pockets of the city where Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than six to one.
“Anyone who likes smart women — that’s one base,” Professor Greer said.
Ms. Wiley has been meeting with elected officials, union leaders and progressive activists to discuss the mayor’s race, according to a person who was familiar with her exploration of whether to run.
Ms. Wiley appeared live on MSNBC on Tuesday to weigh in on the hearing of William P. Barr, the attorney general, before the House Judiciary Committee. She did not respond to requests for comment and referred questions to Jon Paul Lupo, a political consultant who has served as an adviser to Mr. de Blasio and worked on the mayor’s presidential campaign.
Mr. Lupo said Ms. Wiley did not want to discuss her private deliberations over the race, and would not comment on what her time frame might be for deciding whether she would run.
Ms. Wiley’s ties to the mayor, who is unpopular and has received criticism for his handling of the protests and the coronavirus pandemic, could be one of her greatest challenges, along with the fact that she has not been elected to any office before.
“She needs to make sure she’s not yoked to de Blasio in a negative way,” Ms. Greer said.
Mr. de Blasio, a Democrat in his second term, must step down because of term limits.
Ms. Wiley resigned as the mayor’s lawyer in 2016 after growing discouraged over not being part of Mr. de Blasio’s inner circle, according to a person who was familiar with her thinking at the time. She moved to the citizen review board, which investigates and makes recommendations about complaints against police officers for using excessive force.
At the board, she was praised for holding more public meetings. But critics say the agency was still too secretive and sluggish. In a report on the use of Taser stun guns released when she was chairwoman, the agency removed language that highlighted how officers had mostly used the stun guns on people who were unarmed.
Ms. Wiley’s father, George A. Wiley, was the former head of the National Welfare Rights Organization and achieved national prominence for organizing poor Black and white people. He died in a boating accident in 1973.
She has attended the recent wave of protests and called on Mr. de Blasio’s police commissioner, Dermot F. Shea, to resign — a possible sign that she may seek to distance herself from her former boss.
Carl Heastie, the State Assembly speaker and an influential Black leader, posted photos on social media from a meal he had with Ms. Wiley earlier this month. Seated outside with both wearing masks, Mr. Heastie thanked her for coming to the Bronx to have Caribbean food and an “even greater conversation about the future of the Bronx and N.Y.C.”
The race is in flux because of the pandemic, and it remains to be seen whether voters would rather elect a candidate with deep political experience or perhaps an outsider in the mold of someone like Michael R. Bloomberg, said Rebecca Katz, a former adviser to Mr. de Blasio.
“Anyone who has been in Maya’s presence knows that she is a force,” she said, “and I would not underestimate her.”
Emma G. Fitzsimmons is the City Hall bureau chief, covering politics in New York City. She previously covered the transit beat and breaking news. @emmagf