This year, we got the first female vice president of the U.S. Does that mean it’s time for the first female mayor of our country’s largest city? Maya Wiley thinks so. The former MSNBC legal analyst has mounted a solid campaign for the spot and has emerged as the top female candidate in a very crowded field in the Democratic primary on June 22nd. (Since New York is a heavily Democratic city, the winner of the primary is often the winner of the race in November.)
It’s not about power; it’s about people. That’s why women do things.
In recent polling, Wiley is in fourth place behind front runner Andrew Yang, the former presidential candidate, and two other men who hold positions in city government currently. Wiley has experience as an activist with civil rights organizations and served for several years as a legal counsel to the current mayor Bill de Blasio. She has won key endorsements from one of the city’s most powerful labor unions, Emily’s List, politicians, and celebrities, such as Kathy Griffin and Rosie O’Donnell.
In February, Wiley spoke at our Virtual Out Loud event. As her candidacy picks up steam, we want to spotlight her words of inspiration and wisdom, not just about politics, but about the potential of women our age to make a difference in society. Here’s an edited version of my interview with her.
Why could New York use a woman mayor?
We are in a historic crisis that has laid bare so much that was broken and showed so many people who were hurting before COVID struck. That means we need change makers, and who makes change? Women make change, particularly in a time when we have to pull together. And the divisions that we’ve seen because of Donald Trump and Trumpism–because it’s not just Donald Trump as we saw with the insurrection on Jan. 6th. We have these divisions in all our communities and we in NY are not immune either. So we have to have leadership that pulls us together for a higher purpose, and it is a purpose that is going to create a path to prosperity for all of us.
Do you think women are more suited to bring people together?
I do. It’s not because women are soft and touchy feely. That’s the stereotype. It’s because we listen and in order to do big bold things we actually have to do them in collaborative ways, and that’s not softness. That’s smarts. And we don’t have the ego investment in being right because that’s what gets us people like Donald Trump. Our investment is in people, family, and community and making sure people are taken care of. And we know that to do that we’ve got to partner. That’s what we need in times of division, of crisis, of humanitarian pain. So many people hungry, so many lost family members. We need that.
Are we in a new era where women are truly claiming their power?
Absolutely, We done. We tired. I’ve been saying this to people. We are the calvary in a crisis. We are the defenders of democracy. We’ve seen too much tragically failed male leadership. We’re not standing for it any more. I always quote Shirley Chisholm, “You can whimper and complain on the sidelines or you can make progress by implementing ideas.” I think women are claiming that power that Shirley Chisholm was such a vocal proponent of.
Is this why I’ve read that a lot of countries doing the best with COVID are ones led by women?
In order to do big bold things we actually have to do them in collaborative ways.
This is what I’m talking about it. If we look at vaccine roll out and the disaster it’s been in far too many cities–we’re hearing communities who lost the most folks are not getting the vaccine. And that is fundamentally about a failure. Some of that is a failure of planning, but some of that is a failure of partnership. Of not recognizing the folks who know how to get info out to folks who are low income, who are essential workers, who may be struggling just to get enough food on the table. How to reach them, how to let them know the services that are available if they don’t have technology to sign up for an appointment. It’s women who figure that out.
It’s part of what we saw with the testing crisis. Normally, if we make a mistake, we fix it. We don’t let it happen again. We use it as an opportunity to get better. But partnering with communities is a big way we do that. That’s why during a crisis like COVID you saw women leadership because it was getting folks together and getting them working together and getting it done.
Women in this 45-plus age group have so much experience, and it’s wonderful to see them contributing what they’ve learned over their lives.
I think so much of what it menas to be a woman of our “ripeness” is that we have…we’ve been through it. We are a generation of women who hit the glass ceiling, who had to manage aging parents and take care of small children, and work and be the paycheck.
We’ve been through it and we know how to do it. One of the wonderful things about this age…I see it with my own daughters; they’re their own fierce leaders in the world. Both give me a lot or inspiration and energy and hope. But it also frees me up. For so many of us, we’re at an age where we’re freed up; we’re freed up to lean into the leaders that we are. We’re able to claim that mantel and it’s a wonderful place to be.
Our tagline is Age Boldly. What does that mean to you?
I’m running to be the next mayor of New York City, the largest city in the country. As large as city of Los Angeles, Chicago, and Houston combined. And we’ve never had a woman mayor in our history. There have been 109 mayors, and we’re 52 percent of the population. We do all the work to run this city, and we’ve never sat in the big chair.
Part of this aging with boldness for me is the deep privilege this stage of my life gives me to contest that. To say that is wrong. We’re going to change that, but we’re going to change it for all the right reasons, which is about our people. It’s not about power; it’s about people. That’s why women do things.
What do you say to women who are trying to figure out the next chapter in their life?
Embrace it. Lean into it. Don’t be afraid of it. Whatever it is that your passion is telling you to pursue, do it. Because it’s calling you. I got called into this race. If I thought about it rationally, I wouldn’t be running. I allowed my passion to call me and I believe deeply it’s the right thing to do, and I just invite all of you to this joy of pursuing your passion.