Ray Makes the Case| April 21, 2021
Former Citigroup executive Ray McGuire throws his hat in the ring for the New York City mayor’s race
Photos: AP images
Ray McGuire may not be a household name in New York, but the edge he holds over the dozen or so other candidates for mayor is paved with green, lots of it. At a time when the city’s business class worries about the post-pandemic reopening, he is the only one of those vying for the Democratic nomination to offer a vision without raising taxes.
McGuire, 63, stepped down from his position as vice chairman at banking giant Citigroup, a job he held for 15 years, to enter public service for the first time. He has raised millions of dollars, eschewing the city’s generous matching funds program that gives $8 for every dollar in small donations raised. This speaks to the apprehension of his backers, who worry that the next mayor will make it harder for them to operate.
McGuire stands six feet, four inches tall, which would tie him with John Lindsay as New York’s second-tallest mayor, if he were elected. (The term-limited incumbent Bill de Blasio reports his height as six feet, six inches.) It would also ensure, at the least, that mercurial governor Andrew Cuomo — with whom McGuire has a working relationship — would look up to him. McGuire is the second candidate for New York City’s top office to sit with Mishpacha to discuss his campaign priorities.
Social justice has been a painful subject. Many people now associate it with violent protest and looting. Over the last year we’ve seen previously unthinkable images of Manhattan streets burning and major department stores looted, with police standing by and not intervening, reportedly on orders from the top.
Regardless of your feelings on the underlying subject, can you assure storeowners that looting will never be tolerated, not for any reason or cause, not for one night or even for one hour?
The answer is, we need to make our streets safe. They’re not safe now. New Yorkers don’t feel safe in the streets. We need to deal with the gun violence, which has now gotten all too high — you got a 100-plus percent increase in gun violence. Murders are up. And we need to deal with increasingly big problems having to do with mental illness. And we obviously need to return respect and accountability and proportionality between the community and the NYPD. But we have to get the streets safe.
You mentioned a few things over there, so let’s unpack all of it. Typically, the Jewish community is the first to be affected by a rise in crime, particularly the Orthodox, who are visibly Jewish. In 2019 and early 2020 there were near-daily assaults on Jews in Crown Heights, Williamsburg, and Boro Park, but it took weeks for the mayor to decide to crack down on it. Where would you as mayor stand on that?
I will stand very clear — it won’t take me weeks. We cannot stand for anti-Semitism, anti-Asian, anti-black [hatred] anywhere we experience it. We must denounce it from the outset. I want to be bright, clear, and unequivocal here: We need to denounce it, we need to stand up visibly here against it.
The other side of the coin is — I wouldn’t call it anti-Semitism, but Orthodox Jews get a feeling of insensitivity when dealing with the city’s bureaucracy, whether from a government agency or jury duty. Will you commit to appointing more Orthodox Jews to positions of influence and authority in your administration?
I will commit to making certain that I have the best and the brightest people on the team and in leadership positions, including members of the Orthodox community. I have a track record of making sure that I surround myself by the most capable talent, with the right mindset, with the right values, and I would expect that a number of those leaders would be from the Jewish community.
When you first announced a run for office, I was thinking, who is this Wall Street banker with the — call it audacity, call it confidence — to run for New York City mayor at a time when the city is on a steep leftward tilt? But then I read your life story and it’s quite an interesting one.
My story of how I got to Wall Street — you know, I come from Dayton, Ohio. My single mother — I didn’t know my dad — along with my grandparents, raised me and my two brothers, along with half a dozen foster children at any one moment in time.
My mother made the sacrifices. She was a social worker — in fact, my mother worked three jobs in order to make sure that she could pay the gas and light bill, go to the grocery store, put tithes and alms in the church, and pay the rent. I know what it’s like not to have.
There was this teacher in the fifth grade who called up and said, “Ray’s got some talent over here.” From sixth grade to 11th grade, based on my mother’s sacrifices, I was able to go to a school called the Miami Valley School, and I did well there — I had a 4.0 average and I was president of the school.
There was a teacher there, who happened to have been a Jewish teacher, Robert Melnick, who said, “Look, if you are as good as they say you are, go test yourself against the big boys and girls in the east.”
I said, “Where are they?”
So I took a Greyhound bus around New England by myself looking for schools. And I landed at a school in Lakeville, Connecticut, called the Hotchkiss School, for my senior year. I applied to colleges, and I was fortunate to get into each one of those colleges, and I went to Harvard College. I went on to Europe for a fellowship after a year — it was a formative year of my life — and I then started my career here in New York City almost four decades ago.
When I came to New York, I had three things — I had a great education, I had a lot of debts, and I had no money. So this city, which today is in crisis, was good to me and I love this city.
The next mayor will be charged with pulling the city out of the Covid economic slump. What is your plan for that? And what do you say to the calls made by some to raise taxes on those in higher income brackets to expand benefit programs for those in lower income brackets?
Given the support of the Biden administration — especially Vice President Kamala Harris, whom I introduced to New York City — and infrastructure being among the highest priorities that they have outlined, we do not need to raise taxes. I want to keep businesses and high-paying taxpayers in New York City. We need them.
You said you introduced Vice President Kamala Harris to New York City. Do you have a connection to her?
Yes. Longstanding. As well as a longstanding relationship with Senator Schumer and the congressional leadership, and a very constructive relationship with the governor.
The top issue in the Orthodox electorate right now is the independence of yeshivos. If the state education department were to impose some sort of mandate on yeshivos to extend secular studies hours in a way that yeshivos say is unsustainable, what would you tell parents of those students?
With regards to yeshivos, I believe we have to find a way to protect religious liberty and ensure all New Yorkers’ needs are met. Education of people of all faiths is key to developing our economy and keeping New York a leader in the future. I believe there is a way to work together with the elected and appointed leadership and the community in a partnership to do both of these things.
There are 275-odd yeshivas, and we need to make certain that they are included when we are thinking about the education of our children.
I’ve been in Boro Park, talking directly to the leadership of the yeshivos, and I would like to continue that conversation. I’ve looked at the curriculum, I’ve seen the chassidic Bobov group and the Orthodox voting bloc in Boro Park — I’ve been there and sat and talked, and I would enjoy and look forward to making certain that they would be included in that conversation.
Well, we don’t have a voting bloc. Have you meet with members of Yaffed?
I’ve met with a group of 20 rabbis — Reform, Conservative, Orthodox rabbis — I held a roundtable with 75 Jewish supporters and donors, I’ve been very close to the community. And this is not new for me. I have a longstanding history with the Jewish community, it goes back now at least 40 years.
I’ve prayed at the Wall, I have stood at Ben Yehuda and King David Street — they thought I was Aulcie Perry, who was the great Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball player.
This segues into the next question — the Israel question. If elected, do you plan on doing the job New York City mayors have traditionally done, to be an advocate for Israel?
Listen, Israel is very important. The start-up nation is very important to the economy of New York City, they are important to the ideas of New York City. So the answer is, I will be supportive, have been supportive — that is not going to change.
New York City mayors have traditionally use the bully pulpit of the office to try to advocate for one issue on the national level. What do you see as your issue?
The issue that we have to address on a national level is education, that a child’s life not be determined by his or her zip code.
Are you willing to think beyond public school?
I am looking for the best quality education that exists anywhere. It is all about the children, making sure that this city and this country can compete.
You said you have a relationship with Governor Cuomo. When Bill de Blasio came into office, he also claimed a close relationship with Cuomo. That, obviously, did not work out. How would you deal with the next governor, who has so much control over New York City, whether it’s Cuomo or someone else?
My strategy is to partner with the governor, but to be very clear that I am there on behalf of New York. I am not interested in any skirmishes, I am not interested in any ad hominem attacks. I am interested in making sure that I represent all that is important to New York City in every way and in every geography that I can.
The city has so many neighborhoods with their own unique character, but they are all governed the same uniform way. Take traffic patterns, for example. On Sunday afternoon in Boro Park, the streets can be a madhouse. Come Shabbos afternoon, there is no traffic. Yet the city assesses parking violations on four o’clock Friday afternoon with the same severity that it does on a regular day. Would you consider a more focused enforcement?
There are some issues that lend themselves more to a citywide approach, where we need to make sure that we lead equitably — zoning for housing, for example — and there are some circumstances where we have to be a bit more tailored. So, for example, when it comes to the recognition of the Sabbath, we should be sensitive to that and work with the community.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 857)
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