Ray McGuire has never held political office or had any job in government. And that, according to the New York City mayoral candidate, is exactly what the Big Apple needs in its next leader.
“I don’t owe any political favors — zero, bubkes,” the candidate says. “I come at this with a sole focus on what’s in the best interest of the city that I love.”
McGuire, a former Citigroup executive, is speaking with Hamodia via Zoom from his co-op in the San Remo, a luxury building on Central Park West. He is surrounded by trappings of wealth; he and his wife Crystal McCrary are on Art News’ list of the top 200 art collectors in the world; their specialty is African and African-American artists. (One of their prized paintings, “Head of a Disciple,” is of a rabbi, by renowned African-American artist Henry Ossawa Tanner, who visited Palestine in the late 1890’s and painted Jewish as well as Christian subjects.) McGuire has also been generous with his money, and has served on boards of schools, and artistic and civic organizations.
But before the multimillions, the high art, and the Manhattan social circles, there were humble beginnings in Dayton, Ohio.
McGuire, 64, was raised in that factory town by his mother and grandparents, along with two older brothers, “and at any point in time we’d have half a dozen foster children in our home.” His mother worked three jobs, and “made the sacrifice for me to go to school.”
From sixth through eleventh grades, Ray attended the Miami Valley private school. He had a 4.0 GPA (and averaged 28 points per game in basketball) and was challenged to do even better by a Jewish teacher, Robin Melnick, whom McGuire calls an “extraordinary powerhouse.”
“Ray, if you’re as good as they say you are,” Melnick told him, “why don’t you go test yourself against the big girls and boys in the East?” McGuire took a Greyhound bus to the Northeast and spent his senior year at the elite Hotchkiss Boarding School in Connecticut, where, he says, his classmates wore shirts “that cost more than my entire wardrobe.”
Ray applied to six colleges — Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Amherst, Johns Hopkins and Northwestern. He was accepted to all and chose Harvard, where he would ultimately earn his Bachelor’s degree, as well as graduate degrees in both Law and Business, before embarking on a spectacularly successful career in finance.
So why does the banker, nearly a senior citizen, suddenly decide to run for mayor?
“Because I love this city; it’s given me everything,” says the candidate, who likes to recount that when he first came to the Big Apple, “I had three things: I had a great education, I had a lot of debt and I had no money.”
“At a moment in time when this city’s in the middle of a crisis, it needs leadership that meets the moment, and I have that leadership,” McGuire says. “I’ve had to manage budgets, manage out of the [financial] crisis, build teams, keep the teams, have a vision, execute on that vision, be held accountable.”
Just two weeks before the primary, McGuire has been unable to gain traction in a crowded Democratic field, despite having raised more money than any other candidate. Polls have him mired in the low single digits; a Spectrum NY1/Ipsos survey released this week shows that just 50% of likely Democratic primary voters are familiar with McGuire; five other candidates have better name recognition.
At debates and online forums, McGuire can come off as low-key and stiff. One New York journalist who has interviewed other mayoral candidates told this reporter that he didn’t request an interview with McGuire “because he is so boring.”
But it would seem McGuire only stiffens up when the live cameras turn on. On the Hamodia interview — done for print not video — he appeared far more at ease than on the public stage. Decked out in a light-colored zip-up hoodie (it was sweltering outside; perhaps the San Remo A/C works a bit too well) and white pants, the candidate was loose and personable, as he discussed the issues important to New Yorkers in this mayoral race.
As New York seeks to emerge from the COVID shutdown, McGuire says “we need to grow our way out of this,” declaring himself “pro-business.” He is critical of the administration of progressive outgoing Mayor Bill de Blasio, whose left-wing politics have been blamed by critics for driving some high earners out of New York.
“You’ve got an entire administration has not been supportive of business. Tax the rich. Okay, whatever,” he says, with the playful sarcasm and manner of a teenaged girl. “We’ve lost a lot of the high taxpayers. I want them to be here. We’ve lost corporations who’ve decided they don’t want to be here. And I want them to be here. I want to stop advertising for Florida.”
The candidate professes skepticism of his opponents’ abilities to turn around the city’s economy.
“The only way you’re getting out of this mess is to grow, and to have leadership that is competent leadership — not kids out there who’ve never managed much of anything,” says the candidate. Asked to name which of his opponents he’s referring to, McGuire says, “You can figure out who’s had a budget larger than $10 million — and even that doesn’t qualify them. And you’ve got to be held accountable.”
McGuire’s stated economic plan is highly detailed; more than 8,700 words under the “Economy & Jobs” tab of his campaign website. The candidate confidently calls his plan “the greatest, most inclusive economic comeback in the history of New York City,” and says it will create 500,000 jobs. He summarizes the plan as “Go big, go small, go forward” — the “big” a reference to infrastructure; “small” meaning a focus on small businesses; and “forward” referring to the inclusion of historically underrepresented minorities and women.
McGuire is highly critical of the fact that the Amazon and Industry City proposals fell apart, calling it “idiotic” and a “lack of leadership.”
As for proposals to place a tax on every Amazon package delivered, he is noncommittal, stating, “It’s something that should be under consideration.”
Crime and Policing
New York, as with many cities around the country, is in a struggle over tensions between those who advocate tough-on-crime policies and supporters of police reform. The city had moved toward reform during the de Blasio administration, and even more so after the death of George Floyd last year, including “defunding” the NYPD, a rallying cry for Black Lives Matter activists. But a sharp rise in shootings and murders for more than a year now has led some to question the Defund movement and other reforms.
“I’m not for Defund; I’m for better policing,” the candidate says. “I want the police to protect me, not profile me.”
McGuire opposes tactics like stop-and-frisk, and says the city should “invest in the root causes of the crime” like mental illness. He would appoint a deputy mayor for public safety, who would have “direct oversight of the NYPD and other criminal justice agencies.”
As with other moderate Democratic candidates, McGuire has called for both a strong public-safety framework as well as continuing with reforms.
“Am I tough on crime? The answer is yes, I’m tough on crime. Do we have to reform the way we go about it? Yes, we do. Do we have to train better the police? Yes.”
Those in the pro-police camp have also blamed state bail reform for increasing crime rates.
McGuire says he agrees “with the premise of bail reform: you and I commit the same crime, bail is $250, you can pay it, I can’t, I go to Rikers. That ain’t right.” But he supports toughening the law in certain instances, including remanding repeat offenders, and remanding people who are arrested with a loaded gun and are actively facing felony charges or have a prior conviction for a violent crime or gun possession.
As New Yorkers face an onslaught of hate crimes against Jews and Asians, McGuire — who says his “life is heavily informed” by the 1963 essay “Religion and Race” by Abraham Joshua Heschel — believes the city must “invest in the [NYPD Hate Crime Task Force]” and “denounce [hate crimes] from the start.” And “we need to make sure that when [a hate crime] does occur, that people are made examples of. We can’t tolerate that.”
The Jewish Community
McGuire, who proudly notes that he first visited Israel in 1980, is a staunch opponent of the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, saying, “I absolutely condemn BDS and any other movement that seeks to exclude, delegitimize or isolate Israel.”
When Hamas began firing rockets at Israel on Yom Yerushalayim last month, McGuire was the first Democratic candidate to tweet in support of Israel, writing, “In the last 24 hrs, over 100 rockets were fired at Israel by terrorists in Gaza. Millions of Israelis are currently under threat. The United States & the entire international community must stand unequivocally with Israel. On this Yom Yerushalayim, I stand proudly with Israel.”
On the issue of circumcision, McGuire says that “there’s an accommodation [under the de Blasio administration] that appears to be working, so I wouldn’t have to delve into that.”
Asked about government regulation of the curriculum of private schools, including yeshivas, McGuire answers in broad terms, “I think we need to continue to work with the leadership of the yeshivas to get to a place that is one that can accommodate what’s necessary on behalf of our children.” Pressed to state whether he believes a curriculum should be up to the government, or to the schools and parents, the candidate replies, “I think it’s a combination. I respect religious freedom, religious liberty. But I also respect the fact that we’re all citizens here, and so we need to have a relationship between the religious leaders and the government leaders, and that relationship needs to strike a balance.”
The New York State Board of Regents is in the midst of formulating regulations for secular-studies curriculum, and enforcement in New York City would be done by the schools chancellor, appointed by the mayor. Asked whether he would enforce whatever guidelines the state comes up with, McGuire responds, “It’s not so straightforward. I’d sit down with the leadership to see what we couldn’t do to come to an agreement.”
Universal Basic …
Andrew Yang, one of the leading mayoral candidates, has popularized the idea of a “universal basic income,” which under Yang’s plan would start at an average of $2,000 per year for the poorest 500,000 New Yorkers. McGuire is not a fan.
“You know what universal basic income turns out to be? $5 a day. Come on, man. That’s an insult,” he says. “What are you going to do with $5 a day? They say, ‘Teach a man to fish, don’t give him a fish.’ That ain’t even a fish; that’s a minnow.”
McGuire prefers what he calls “universal basic opportunity,” and says, “Don’t come here with that other meshugas, man. That stuff don’t work. It’s a gimmick.”
New York streets have traditionally been for cars and parking spaces, but in recent years and especially since the Covid pandemic, more streets have been converted to other uses: Open Streets, Open restaurants, bike lanes and bus lanes.
McGuire supports this move.
“I’m in favor of green spaces. I like my bike,” says the candidate, who believes the change to the streets’ use “has been quite beneficial.”
“Yes, there have been some challenges that have taken place,” he says, but “we have one climate, last I checked … and so we need to do whatever we can to protect it.”
But while “you can try to have an overall plan,” the candidate believes policies should be enacted by a neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis. “One size doesn’t fit all.”
When The New York Times asked the mayoral candidates if they knew how much the average home in Brooklyn cost ($900,000), McGuire’s response was, “It’s got to be somewhere in the $80,000 to $90,000 range, if not higher.”
McGuire says he knew the answer, as he had just helped someone on his staff buy a home, calls his response “a brain freeze,” and says, “I own it.”
To some, this was a symbol of a wealthy banker who wants to be mayor but is out of touch with the common man. But McGuire rejects this notion, saying, “I come from the bottom.”
“I grew up with my mother having to work three jobs. I know what it’s like not to have. I know what it’s like to wash tinfoil. I know what it’s like to grow up across the street from a paper mill that sometimes used to emit fumes so strong that the only way you could breathe was to open the refrigerator door. I know what it’s like when my mother decided to try to debate whether she’s going to pay the gas and electric bill, put food on the table, or put tithes and offerings in the church.”
Path to Victory?
As Primary Day nears, the kid from Dayton who made good on Wall Street insists victory is achievable.
“People counted me out from Day One,” he says. “Coming out of my neighborhood, who do you think would have cast a vote for me then? Nobody. Except for my dear mother.” (She’s 95 years old, and still lives in Dayton.)
“So, all the naysayers, all the haters, whatever.
“I’m talking to the people, and what I’m getting from the people, is the people are out there every single day. I was out today, right in front of Barclays Center talking to the voters. I went to Brooklyn, right in the heart of Brooklyn talking to people, ‘Hey Ray, hey Ray, we’re voting for you, I got your back!’ So, nobody knows. These polls that people are talking about, in a world of ranked-choice voting, who knows. They’re all making it up.”
McGuire points out that some polls have shown more voters saying they are “undecided” than supporting the leading candidate, “so the only poll that matters with undecided starts June 12, to June 22.”
And he says the Big Apple will be in trouble if it elects the wrong person.
“We’ve seen the bad movie before playing at City Hall. We cannot afford a disastrous sequel. If we want real change, we must make a change. And this is not my first management job. I’m a leader, I get things done, I got receipts. In order for our best days to be ahead of us as opposed to behind us, we need a leader in whom this city can believe, in whom this city can trust, who can bring the city together. Because right now we are broke, we’re broken and divided. Unless we have the right leadership, this bad-movie sequel is going to be worse than the first part.”