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Maya Wiley Enters N.Y.C. Mayor’s Race: ‘I Am Not a Conventional Candidate’

Maya D. Wiley, a former top lawyer for Mayor Bill de Blasio who has gained a national following as a political and legal analyst for MSNBC, announced her run for mayor of New York City on Wednesday night and immediately sought to distance herself from her former boss.

In a campaign launch video, Ms. Wiley, a political novice, pointedly did not mention Mr. de Blasio by name, but invoked his tenure as she pointed to a “crisis of confidence in our city’s leadership.”

“Some will say I don’t sound like past mayors or look like them or think like them, and I say yes, I don’t — that is the point,” said Ms. Wiley, who is Black. “I am not a conventional candidate. But changing it up isn’t the risk. Electing the same kinds of people, bringing the same old broken promises over and over again and expecting things will be different — that’s the risk we can’t afford right now.”

Her announcement had been expected for months after Ms. Wiley left her role at MSNBC in July to explore a run. The mayor’s race next year has been reshaped by the pandemic and by massive Black Lives Matter protests in the city.

By urging voters to support her “if you’re tired of the same old thing,” Ms. Wiley cast herself as an outsider, despite her affiliation with the de Blasio administration, a strategy that would distinguish her from two leading Democratic candidates — Eric Adams, the Brooklyn borough president, and Scott M. Stringer, the city comptroller — who are longtime public servants.

Ms. Wiley will have to explain how she is different from Mr. de Blasio, a Democrat in his second and final term, who is not well liked among voters. As a lawyer for the mayor, Ms. Wiley famously argued that his email communications with outside advisers were private because the advisers were acting as “agents of the city.” Those emails were eventually released in what became an embarrassing episode for the mayor.

Ms. Wiley plans to formally begin her campaign on Thursday at an event outside the Brooklyn Museum with her family and supporters, including Michael Gianaris, a powerful Democratic state senator from Queens known most for his successful efforts to disrupt Amazon’s deal for a headquarters in his borough.

A civil rights lawyer who lives in Brooklyn, Ms. Wiley served for roughly a year as chairwoman of the Civilian Complaint Review Board. Since then, she worked as a professor at The New School and regularly appeared on MSNBC, becoming a popular figure among its left-leaning viewers. Her father, George A. Wiley, was a prominent civil rights leader.

But Ms. Wiley has never held public office or staged an expensive political campaign, and she will have to quickly establish herself as a capable leader and persuade voters — including the business community — that she is the best person to lead the city out of the pandemic.

Her campaign said Ms. Wiley planned to focus on racial justice, affordable housing and educational inequality, among other issues.

One of her first public events was outside The Lucerne Hotel on the Upper West Side of Manhattan last month, where advocates urged Mr. de Blasio not to kick homeless men out of the hotel. Some neighbors had complained after the men moved there during the pandemic.

“The men of The Lucerne are us,” Ms. Wiley said. “We are all New Yorkers. They must stay.”

Fans who recognized Ms. Wiley from television — even though she wore a blue face mask — asked for selfies after the event.

The mayor’s race has been in flux in recent weeks. The City Council speaker, Corey Johnson, dropped out of the race, and Kathryn Garcia, the city’s sanitation commissioner, said she might enter it.

Mr. de Blasio must step down because of term limits. The 2021 Democratic primary is in June, and the general election follows in November.

Mr. Stringer, the city comptroller, has highlighted his endorsements from younger progressive leaders like Jessica Ramos, a state senator from Queens, and Jamaal Bowman, a Democratic congressional candidate.

Ms. Wiley is charismatic and has a compelling background on criminal justice issues, but she has to find her voter base, said Susan Kang, a political-science professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and a member of the Democratic Socialists of America.

“Scott Stringer has done a good job of coalescing a lot of support with establishment progressives,” Professor Kang said. “How is she going to put together her coalition?”

The mayor said recently that Ms. Wiley “did a great job serving in this administration,” and that her interest in becoming mayor — along with expected bids from Ms. Garcia and another former city commissioner, Loree K. Sutton — was “good for New York City.”

But on Wednesday, Mr. de Blasio was asked in jest if another Democrat secretly wanted his job: Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, his frequent adversary.

“I wouldn’t urge anyone to want to be mayor of New York City,” he said. “It is a very, very challenging moment.”

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