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5 Highlights of New York Mayor’s Race, as Spike Lee Weighs In

With more than a dozen candidates running for mayor of New York City, it can be difficult to stand out. A powerful ad can help — especially if it features Spike Lee.

Raymond J. McGuire, a Black business executive who is trying to position himself as the best candidate to help the city recover from the pandemic, released a campaign video last week that introduced him and his life story to voters.

Mr. McGuire’s campaign launch also included his first extended interviews as a candidate, a rite of passage that can be difficult for those who have never run for office. Another first-time candidate, Maya Wiley, a former MSNBC analyst, grappled with the thorny issue of “defunding the police” in an interview last week.

All the candidates are trying to find ways to grab voters’ attention and to raise money ahead of the June 22 primary. Dianne Morales, a former nonprofit executive who is also making her first run for office, has been raising money over criticism of an article by The New York Times that mentioned her comments about enjoying edible marijuana.

Here are five highlights from last week:

The 2020 documentary, “Yusuf Hawkins: Storm Over Brooklyn,” about the racially motivated murder of a Black teenager in 1989, has placed Muta’Ali Muhammad on many lists of up-and-coming filmmakers.

Mr. Muhammad was enlisted to direct Mr. McGuire’s campaign launch video, and he approached it as a mini-documentary. Mr. McGuire and his wife, Crystal McCrary McGuire, a lawyer and filmmaker who is the executive producer of the ad, reached out to Mr. Lee and the jazz musician Wynton Marsalis for help.

The video shows Mr. McGuire, who is wearing a pair of black and red Air Jordan 11 Retro sneakers and exercise gear, jogging through an empty Times Square. Mr. Lee narrates over Mr. Marsalis’s jazz compositions as the toll of the coronavirus pandemic unfolds — a row of refrigerated morgues and shuttered businesses.

“It’s crazy out here. Bananas,” Mr. Lee said in one of the ad-libs he added to the script. “People are asking, ‘Is this it? Is New York over?’”

Mr. McGuire is introduced as the man who can fix it before the video delves into his upbringing in Dayton, Ohio, by a single mother who emphasized the importance of education.

“I approached it directing-wise from a documentary standpoint, a short-form documentary,” Mr. Muhammad said in an interview. “We have a lot of family photos. It gives people a chance to see him out and about, his style and approach for taking care of us New Yorkers.”

Mark Skidmore, chief executive of Assemble the Agency, wrote the jogging script after rejecting the idea of showing him on a basketball court, one of his favorite activities. The crew estimated that Mr. McGuire ran four or five miles during one day of shooting.

“He’s 63, but he’s in far better shape than I am,” Mr. Skidmore said. “We wanted to highlight and show that this is a guy who has the energy to run the city.”

Hours after releasing the video, Mr. McGuire stepped into the rugged New York City media landscape with interviews on WNYC radio with Brian Lehrer and on NY1 with Errol Louis.

Mr. Lehrer asked whether his Wall Street background could alienate voters.

“I would encourage people to look at the totality of my lived experiences,” said Mr. McGuire, who cited his rise from humble beginnings.

A caller asked how Mr. McGuire would address climate change, and he talked about the paper mill that he said spewed fumes near the home he grew up in.

Mr. McGuire took centrist positions on taxing the wealthy and whether landlords should forgive or reduce rent for small businesses. Mr. McGuire said that while wealthy people like him should pay more in taxes, that would not be enough to solve the city’s financial crisis.

“We simply can’t tax our way out of this,” he told Mr. Louis. “We need to grow our way out of this.”

Mr. McGuire did not answer a question about whether he would keep Dermot F. Shea, the city’s police commissioner, and he blamed being busy with family and work for his failure to vote in both the primary and general elections during the last three mayoral contests.

Ms. Wiley has made a name for herself as a progressive expert on criminal justice issues and served from 2016 to 2017 as the chairwoman of the city’s police oversight agency.

But she has been careful not to fully embrace the phrase “defund the police.” The movement is popular among protesters, but could be viewed as too liberal among moderate voters.

In an interview on MSNBC, Ms. Wiley was asked about President Obama’s recent comments that “defund the police” was a “snappy slogan” that could alienate “a big audience.” She said Democrats should focus on specific policies to improve policing and public safety.

“We should not get caught up in slogans — we should get caught up in solutions,” she said last week.

When Ms. Wiley was asked directly if she wants to “defund the police” in an interview with Mr. Lehrer, she was cautious with her words.

“I subscribe to the principles of what so many demonstrators, me among them, were marching for this summer,” she said. “And that is that we have to invest in our communities that are being over-policed.”

When Ms. Morales professed her love for edible marijuana at the first candidate forum in October, it was one of the most memorable quotes of the night.

All of the candidates were asked if they smoked marijuana, and few admitted to using it. Ms. Morales’s answer — “I prefer edibles.” — seemed human and refreshingly candid.

The answers were also illuminating because New York State is likely to legalize marijuana soon, and the next mayor could shape the city’s approach.

But Ms. Morales said that the Times’ decision to include her comment about edible marijuana in an interactive slide show about the candidates was racist and an “attempt to summarily dismiss me.”

There is more to her story, she said in a series of Twitter messages and an email urging her supporters to donate money. She is an Afro-Latina single mother who led an anti-poverty nonprofit. She earned graduate degrees from Harvard University and Columbia University. She is running on progressive policies like defunding the police, desegregating schools and providing New Yorkers a guaranteed minimum income.

Her campaign launch video focused on the obstacles she faced as a woman of color. “When I think back to the moments in my lifetime that may have led me here, I think of the city systems that failed my family,” she said.

Another candidate jumped in the race last week: Isaac Wright Jr., a lawyer who was wrongfully convicted decades ago, and helped other inmates with their cases.

The television show “For Life” on ABC is based on Mr. Wright’s story, and he is a producer on the show, along with the rapper 50 Cent.

His Hollywood connections landed him a feature on People magazine’s website about his bid for mayor. Mr. Wright said he wants to “address the racial, economic, environmental, and educational injustices that plague our city’s institutions.”

The field of candidates could continue to grow. Others who are rumored to be considering a run: Andrew Yang, the former tech executive and presidential candidate; Christine Quinn, the former City Council speaker; and Representative Max Rose from Staten Island, who lost his seat in November’s election.

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