Estimated reading time: 13 minute(s)
In one week, a tiny fraction of registered Democrats and Republicans in New York City will vote in local primaries. These primaries are headlined by the New York City mayoral primary. On March 26, 2021, I wrote an article criticizing the campaign “About” page for Ms. Sara Tirschwell, a former Republican candidate for mayor. I criticized the About page for attempting to make prospective voters consider choosing Ms. Tirschwell out of sympathy because a large number of people in her life had died. Ms. Tirschwell was unceremoniously tossed from the Republican primary for want of ballot signatures. She blamed her departure on one of her opponents, Mr. Fernando Mateo, and endorsed Mr. Curtis Sliwa. Despite Ms. Tirschwell’s unwilling departure from the race, people still find and read that article, memorializing her unfortunate campaign’s About Page.
It was recently brought to my attention that a certain candidate has a similarly themed, albeit significantly less extreme, campaign About Page. Unlike Ms. Tirschwell, Ms. Maya Wiley is very much still in the race for Mayor – considered to be among the top five contenders in the Democrat Primary. I have felt a tiny bit bad (only a tiny bit) that Ms. Tirschwell’s former campaign is the only one represented here at The New Leaf Journal, so let us have a look at Ms. Wiley’s questionable campaign About Page.
In my article on Ms. Tirschwell’s campaign About Page, I noted that I had a small interest in the matter in light of the fact because I am a registered Republican in New York City. That fact means that I am not voting in Ms. Wiley’s primary because I am not a registered Democrat.
I will most likely be joining Ms. Tirschwell in voting for Mr. Curtis Sliwa in the June 22 Republican Primary, although I remain open to closing arguments from his opponent, Mr. Fernando Mateo. Were Ms. Wiley to be the Democrat nominee, there is no chance that I would vote for her in the general election.
Because I live in New York City and am questioning aspects of Ms. Wiley’s campaign About Page, I thought it would be appropriate to disclose my distance from the matter of her primary contest. In the piece on Mr. Tirschwell, I noted that my criticisms were of the substance of her campaign About Page, not of her particular politics or candidacy (neither of which we learned much about on her About Page). The same will be true regarding my commentary on Ms. Wiley’s campaign website.
What is the Purpose of a Campaign About Page?
If someone is visiting a candidate’s campaign biography page, that person is likely interested in learning who the candidate is. Of course, one is unlikely to find an impartial take on a candidate on the candidate’s own campaign website. Instead, we learn how the campaign wants to present the candidate to voters. In the context of a candidacy for mayor, voters may be interested to know what in the candidate’s biography qualifies him or her for the office in question.
I wrote the following in my article on Ms. Tirschwell:
The About Sara Tirschwell Page makes no case for why Sara Tirschwell the person is the person most qualified to make New York City a better place to live.Nicholas A. Ferrell
I should be more precise here. The page did not tell us how Ms. Tirschwell’s knowledge and life experience contributed to her suitability for the position of Mayor of New York City.
Instead of focusing on Ms. Tirschwell’s career, accomplishments, and vision for New York City, the About Page catalogued the people in her life who had died. It remains unclear what the latter had to do with why Ms. Tirschwell was a strong candidate for mayor (her campaign did not try to explain).
The “Meet Maya” Page of Ms. Wiley’s Website
To begin, I will state from the outset that the angst in Ms. Wiley’s “Meet Maya” page is much less extreme than Ms. Tirschwell’s five deaths in six sentences. But having already been traumatized by Ms. Tirschwell’s now-defunct campaign website, Ms. Wiley got off to a scary start:
Maya Wiley has spent her entire life overcoming trauma and fighting for our communities and against structural racism.“Meet Maya”
Are we really leading with “overcoming trauma,” did her campaign not read my article on Ms. Tirschwell? How dare they not!
Ms. Wiley’s campaign begins introducing her to interested voters by telling them that she has overcome trauma. The second and third points of the opening sentence are central to her campaign platform, insofar as I understand it. But what is with the “and” … “and” structure of this sentence? Did anyone on her team try reading this out-loud? Terrible.
But I digress. Let us see what the trauma is. If the campaign leads with trauma, readers expect trauma.
Ms. Wiley’s Trauma
As promised, Ms. Wiley explained what her trauma was:
Despite the hardship of losing her father, a civil rights leader, at 9 years old, she went on to overcome the challenges of being a Black student at Dartmouth College and Columbia Law.“Meet Maya”
“Despite” is doing quite a bit of work there. There is no doubt losing a loving and supporting parent is a great hardship for a child. I am sure losing her father at a young age was a hardship and something that stays with her today.
But how was Ms. Wiley’s loss of her father at the age of nine related to the challenges of her being a black student at Dartmouth and Columbia? These are separate, distinct, and unrelated hardships – assuming arguendo that the latter was a hardship and not a humble-brag highlighting her extensive Ivy League education.
I am willing to venture that the original concept here was that Ms. Wiley and her family overcame the challenges associated with the loss of a parent, and that her success in doing so culminated with her graduating from two very prestigious colleges. However, they were more intent on highlighting the fact that she was a black student at those two very prestigious colleges, without tying the challenges she faced on in college on account of her skin color to the death of her father.
Furthermore, much like we saw with Ms. Tirschwell, the significance of these events is unexplained.
Ms. Wiley tells us that her father was a civil rights leader. Agree or disagree with Ms. Wiley’s political views and campaign positions, one must imagine that her father’s work had a significant influence on her career path. Ms. Wiley’s campaign biography goes on to note her work as a lawyer for the NAACP, in the nonprofit sector, and on the NYPD Civilian Complaint Review Board. Since her campaign took the time to note that her father was a civil rights activist, why not tell people a little bit about what he did and how it inspired the candidate throughout her childhood and her career? This would be especially insightful in light of Ms. Wiley’s longtime activism.
No explanation is forthcoming, however. Much like Ms. Tirschwell’s About Page, Ms. Wiley’s “Meet Maya” page uses the death as little more than a traumatic event or hardship that Ms. Wiley overcame. While losing a parent is tragic for a child, it is neither unprecedented nor a recommendation to run the largest city in the United States. Without diminishing Ms. Wiley’s hardship, I note that many voters will have overcome similar or greater hardships between birth and their trying to figure out how New York City’s new ranked choice voting system works.
Ms. Wiley’s campaign had an opportunity to tell us what was special about her father and how he inspired the candidate to undertake a life of public service. It also had the opportunity to describe how losing a parent at a young age affected her (and perhaps influenced her interests in activism and politics). Instead, it presented Ms. Wiley’s father’s death as a speed bump en route to her graduating from Dartmouth and Columbia Law while being black.
The College Education
Having already noted that it is impossible to draw a clear connection between the death of Ms. Wiley’s father and her overcoming the challenge of being a black student at two Ivy League colleges, let us sever the second part of the thought from the first.
What challenges did she have to overcome as a black student at Dartmouth College and Columbia Law? In light of the fact that Ms. Wiley was born in 1964, she is likely about three decades removed from her last class as a law student. To note these “challenges” so long after the fact suggests that they must be important – that they must have some relevance to Ms. Wiley the mayoral candidate. The “Meet Maya” page has 533 words – not many. Why do we need to know this?
Who knows? Ms. Wiley’s campaign does not tell us. It is just important to know that she overcame undefined difficulties being a black student at Dartmouth and Columbia Law. If overcoming these difficulties had any effect on Ms. Wiley’s outlook and path to the road to City Hall other than the fact that her overcoming these challenges led to her earning a law degree. The campaign is keeping its cards close to the vest.
I know not whether Ms. Wiley has specific “challenges” in mind or if the campaign really was looking for a way to note that she graduated from two highly ranked colleges. Why do I not know? Because no one will tell us.
The Rest of Ms. Wiley’s “Meet Maya” Page
To the Wiley Campaign’s credit, they changed course for the rest of Ms. Wiley’s “Meet Maya” page. Going forward, the page discusses her career as an educator, nonprofit leader, lawyer, television commentator, and lawyer for the de Blasio administration. It did leave out her stint as a lawyer in the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Division, but I will venture that this was a justifiable strategic call.
Again, separate and apart from the question of whether one likes Ms. Wiley’s platform, the majority of the “Meet Maya” page after the strange beginning paints a focused portrait of the candidate for potential voters. It is a bit too busy and not well-organized, but those are minor critiques in the grand scheme.
In light of the fact that the campaign team proved it was capable of writing an About Page that at least made sense for Ms. Wiley’s campaign (which is more than can be said for the former Tirschwell campaign team), the beginning of the “Meet Maya” page is puzzling. It suggested that the campaign going to “Tirschwell” (if the first sentence of “Meet Maya” was acceptable, then I can turn “Tirschwell” into a verb) the entire About Page, but then shifted gears to actually making a pitch for the candidate.
I could offer unsolicited advice to the Wiley campaign much like I did to the Tirschwell campaign a few months ago. However, for reasons I alluded to in my earlier disclosure, I shall decline to offer unsolicited campaign website advice in this case. It is just as well; as I noted in the Ms. Tirschwell article, one ought not take unsolicited advice from random internet writers.
Lest One Accuse Me of Bias, a Look at the Other Democratic About Pages
In my article about Ms. Tirschwell, I compared her campaign site’s About Page unfavorably to the About Pages of her then-three opponents. There are many (too many) people running in Ms. Wiley’s primary. Ms. Wiley was one of only five of those many candidates to qualify for the most recent debate. For that reason, I will restrict my inquiry to those four non-Wiley candidates: Mr. Eric Adams, Mr. Andrew Yang, Ms. Kathryn Garcia, and Mr. Scott Stringer. If you are curious about how Meet Maya compares to the Republican candidate about pages, you can consult the relevant section of my previous article.
I am using archived versions of the links since most of these websites will not be long for the world.
Mr. Eric Adams
Mr. Adams has a very clean and professional about page. Other than the awkward looking “I Am YOU!!” at the top, I cannot find much to criticize in a technical sense. Mr. Adams briefly describes hardships that he and his family incurred at the outset:
As one of six children … raised by a single mom who cleaned houses, Eric and his family did not always know if they would come home to an eviction notice on the front door or food on the table. And when he was beaten by police in the basement of a precinct house at 15, Eric faced a life-changing act of injustice.About Eric Adams
Were Ms. Tirschwell’s or Ms. Wiley’s teams handling this, we may not have learned about the relevance of that story to Mr. Adams’s campaign. However, Team Adams did exactly what I suggested that Ms. Tirschwell’s and Ms. Wiley’s campaigns should have done. Read on in amazement:
But instead of giving into anger, Eric turned his pain into purpose and decided to change the police department from within.About Eric Adams
Wow! We first have a story about suffering injustice from the police, and then the campaign provides a story for how Mr. Adams decided to become a police officer and work to reform the police from the inside – one of the major themes of his campaign. The page does not tie his experiences growing up in a financially poor family into his biography as well as the police incident, but he also did not paint that story as a trauma, so I can forgive the oversight.
Mr. Adams’ team put together a workmanlike and coherent biography for the candidate.
Mr. Andrew Yang
Mr. Andrew Yang touts himself as a non-traditional candidate for public office. There is truth to the portrayal, although I must note he has been in more political campaigns than both Ms. Wiley and Ms. Kathryn Garcia. But I digress.
What would a non-traditional candidate be without a non-traditional About Page? Mr. Yang has no About Page at all! The closest his website comes to producing one is the “Why I’m Running for Mayor” page, written from Mr. Yang’s perspective (if not by Mr. Yang himself).
Mr. Yang’s page includes nothing resembling trauma. Instead, he portrays himself as an uplifting success story. Mr. Yang describes his arriving in New York City as a recent college graduate with few belongings, before meeting his wife, starting a family, failing at starting one business before succeeding in starting another. He ties his work in his successful business to why he thinks he is qualified to be mayor. All the while, Mr. Yang pens a love letter to New York City, perhaps rebutting attacks from the other candidates that he is not a real New Yorker.
Mr. Yang’s site is a bit unusual, but I think that the page is consistent with his persona and his message.
Ms. Kathryn Garcia
Finally, we reach Ms. Kathryn Garcia. I cannot start without noting that her campaign team did a terrible job placing the text on top of pictures from Ms. Garcia’s childhood. It is hard to read. I have good eyesight. Heaven help any potential Garcia voters who do not see well. This “About Kathryn” page is an Americans With Disabilities Act violation.
But I digress.
Ms. Garcia, like Mr. Yang, has a page written from the candidate’s perspective. She begins the About Page by discussing having been adopted into a multiracial family. She wrote the following on the subject:
As a white kid growing up with black siblings, the beauty and strength of New York’s diversity was present in my family, but, so were its shortcomings. My siblings and I are treated differently based on the color of our skin or even our gender. Being a part of a uniquely New York family instilled in me early in my life my values of equality and opportunity. I want to create a New York where all our complex identities are embraced and together they make the city a stronger and more beautiful place.“About Kathryn”
Ms. Garcia describes growing up in a multiracial family, explains how that experience affected her values, and then ties the experience into why she is running for mayor and what she believes she has to offer. Regarding Ms. Tirschwell’s and Ms. Wiley’s hardships and traumas, this was all I asked. If a candidate goes into detail about his or her childhood or early life, that story should tie into the actual candidacy for office.
Ms. Garcia spends the rest of the page detailing her experience. It serves its purpose on the whole.
Mr. Scott Stringer
Whereas Mr. Yang has an unusual biography for a mayor candidate, Mr. Scott Stringer is the consummate political insider. He has been in elected office continuously since 1993 – and he now seeks the highest office in New York City to put the capstone on his political career.
While Mr. Stringer is a very different kind of candidate than Mr. Yang, he, like Mr. Yang, does not have a traditional About Page. Instead, his campaign put together a snazzy “Experience to Lead” page highlighting Mr. Stringer’s accomplishments and political story next to pictures of the candidate. I will submit that I do not like the UI – snazzy as it is – because it is not focused enough on the text. But I digress, let us focus on the text.
Mr. Stringer has been introducing himself to voters every two-to-four years for the last 28 years, so I suppose his campaign decided (not incorrectly) that no one is looking to learn about his childhood or career before politics. The campaign notes where he grew up in New York City, that he grew up in a rent-regulated apartment, his parents’ occupations, and that he went to public schools and a public college in New York City.
Mr. Stringer’s “Experience” page makes one reference to tragedy – it notes that “[t]he Stringer family tragically lost Scott’s mom, Arlene, to the coronavirus in April 2020.” I extend my sympathy to Mr. Stringer and his family. The campaign page does not ask for pity. That loss was very recent, and in the context of a current campaign in New York City, it is not irrelevant to note that the candidate was personally touched by the Wuhan coronavirus.
A Traumatic Conclusion
I have examined the campaign biographies of four current and former Republican candidates for mayor and five Democrat candidates for mayor. Most of the campaign biographies make an effort to tie the candidate’s background to why he or she is running for mayor and why he or she is qualified to be mayor. Only two biographies – those of Ms. Sara Tirschwell and Ms. Maya Wiley – emphasized listing candidate traumas and hardships without explaining how they were at all relevant to potential voters.
I am not at all opposed to candidates trying something new on their campaign sites. The vast majority of political campaign content is terrible content. Bad content dulls the senses. If a campaign wants to produce good content, I fully encourage it.
However, listing various candidate hardships in some bizarre attempt to make voters feel sorry for the candidate or make a point unknowable to anyone but the campaign team is very bad content. It is not only bad content that often insults the intelligence of the electorate, but also content that has no relevance to the candidate’s qualifications for the office sought.
Let us hope that candidates eschew “trauma” content going forward. While I would hope for fewer professional campaign staffers and more good content, I am willing to settle for ordinary campaign content if the alternative is the worst of a certain two campaign biographies that I have covered here at The New Leaf Journal.