The assistance hewed to his presidential campaign pledge to give every American adult $1,000 a month as part of a universal basic income mandate. Now, with the coronavirus pandemic in full bloom, his efforts have taken on prescient relevance — just as his vision of an America plagued by mass unemployment has taken hold.
His re-emergence in New York has added to the intrigue surrounding a possible 2021 mayoral run, an idea that has been floated in his direction since he suspended his presidential campaign in February.
In a race that, like so many other aspects of life, will be almost entirely reshaped by the coronavirus, some say a candidate with the ideas and creativity to meet the moment may be just what voters are looking for as New York tries to rebuild.
“Andrew was and still is a very attractive candidate,” said State Senator John Liu of Queens, the only Asian-American to ever run for mayor of New York. “He’s got credentials, he is articulate and he has a following, both nationally as well as right here in New York. I often say, he’s our Shirley Chisholm.”
On Monday, Mr. Yang, 45, unveiled two projects: a podcast to amplify his ideas and core philosophies, and a campaign aimed at combating racism toward Asian-Americans and others who have faced discrimination during the outbreak. Mr. Yang has maintained that his initiatives represent an attempt to simply help as many people as possible in what he called a “brutally difficult time.”
“This is a catastrophe,” Mr. Yang said, “and there are certain aspects of the catastrophe that I’m actually like one of the best-positioned people in the country to try and tackle.”
Mr. Yang, who was born in upstate New York but has spent most of his adult life living in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood of Manhattan, has repeatedly said he would not rule out a mayoral run on the grounds that the job would allow him to quickly help a lot of people. In an interview last week, he reiterated that point and also acknowledged, “I am more attracted to executive roles generally because I feel like you can get more done.”
The New York Times had reported that advisers to Michael R. Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York and fellow former presidential candidate, reached out to Mr. Yang after he withdrew from the presidential race to offer counsel about a possible mayoral campaign.
Two people familiar with Mr. Yang’s thinking emphasized that he does not covet a spot at City Hall or any other political office, and that, at least at the current moment, he leans toward not running. But the people also said that in recent days, Mr. Yang had begun to give the idea more serious consideration after being made aware of polling that showed him far ahead of other likely candidates.
They added that Mr. Yang might decide to defer a decision about whether to run until after the presidential election in November. He planned to remain focused on that contest in the months ahead, they said.
He argued in the documents that losing delegates and losing the right to vote in New York was “quite simply an outrage that is illegal” and that it would cause him to lose influence at the party’s convention.
In the interview, Mr. Yang said he last spoke to Mr. Biden in early March, sometime before the former vice president became the presumptive Democratic nominee. Mr. Yang said they discussed unifying voters to defeat President Trump, as well as the need to “put more Americans in a position to be succeed.”
Mr. Biden, he said, had solicited his help in a general way, but Mr. Yang added that “he and I have not come together on universal basic income.”
As for Mr. Yang’s mayoral prospects, several experts and members of the city’s political class expressed deep skepticism about whether voters would support a candidate with no political experience as New York emerges from a pandemic.
And while they conceded that Mr. Yang’s universal basic income idea appeared to be gaining some traction, strategists argued that it would be nearly impossible to fund such a program as the city stares at huge budget deficits and a financial crisis.
Whoever takes over the city in the years to come, the professor added, will need to bring a more modern perspective to attack the racial and ethnic inequalities in New York that the virus has starkly highlighted.
“Andrew Yang,” she said “is the antithesis of what New York needs post-coronavirus.”
Though the mayoral primary is more than a year away, several other likely candidates have already emerged, including Eric L. Adams, the Brooklyn borough president; Corey Johnson, the speaker of the New York City Council; and Scott M. Stringer, the city’s comptroller.
All three have been raising money for many months, putting any undeclared candidate at great disadvantage.
Still, in an interview on Tuesday, Mr. Johnson said that Mr. Yang’s presidential candidacy had inspired and excited many people and that he had clearly connected with voters “in a meaningful way.”
Asked how that experience might translate during a possible mayoral run, Mr. Johnson added: “New Yorkers are going to be focused on what are you doing during this moment in time. What is your vision for the future of New York City? What values do you bring to the table? How are you anchored in neighborhoods across New York City?”
Whoever wins will be rewarded with the daunting task of taking over the administration of a city as it seeks to rebound from economic destruction.
The New York of the future will be “less active” and “a lot poorer,” Mr. Yang said. “It makes me incredibly sad thinking about it.”
Asked how he might lessen the pain during a recovery, he began his response by sketching a hypothetical situation: “Let’s say you were the mayor …”
Michael Gold and Jeffery C. Mays contributed reporting.