The two men have very different visions in terms of policy, but Mayor Allan Fung said he counts Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang as a friend – and he sees him as an inspiration for members of minority communities that have shied away from political involvement in the past.
“I’ve met Andrew … He’s a very bright person, providing an interesting perspective to the Democratic debates,” Fung said.
“For me, being of Asian descent, it’s nice to see someone different, a different face that’s up there that’s providing a different perspective,” he added. “I don’t necessarily agree with Andrew and his policies, but it is certainty interesting to see him up and there, and it’s kind of cool that you know someone that’s on that national stage.”
Fung, at 49, is a few years older than Yang, who turns 45 this month. Fung’s parents came to the United States from Hong Kong, while Yang, a New York native, is the son of immigrants from Taiwan.
Both are attorneys and worked in the corporate world. Fung spent time as a prosecutor before pursuing elected office, while Yang was involved in startup companies and founded the nonprofit fellowship program Venture for America before embarking on his presidential bid.
Yang’s signature policy proposal is his “Freedom Dividend” – a “universal basic income” program that would provide all Americans over the age of 18 with $1,000 a month. He has said the plan is meant to provide economic security in the face of rising automation, and would be paid for through new taxes on companies, like Amazon, that have benefited the most from that technology.
Yang has been included in each of the Democratic presidential debates held thus far, and his campaign – supporters of which have adopted the moniker “Yang Gang” – has gained traction despite his status as a political newcomer.
A polling average on the website RealClearPolitics currently puts Yang in sixth place nationally, while he recently posted his best fundraising quarter yet with $16.5 million brought in – more than several of the more well known and established hopefuls.
Fung said he met Yang through different events in the Asian-American community, including a dinner at which they both spoke and sat at the same table. Brown University, which Yang attended, came up as a point of connection. Since then, Fung said the men have stayed in touch over social media.
Fung said he sees Yang’s candidacy as an important example for young Asian-Americans and others. Yang’s campaign, he said, is “raising the profile of Asians that want to run for office that yes, this is something we can and should do.”
“Traditionally, it’s not something that our parents urged us to go into … My mom thought I was crazy when I wanted to run for the City Council or even for mayor,” Fung said. “Hopefully, his run has an opportunity to inspire other Asians and people in other minority communities that yeah, it’s possible.”
The mayor said he has been “thoroughly impressed” with Yang’s campaign, particularly “the fact that he’s not wearing a tie on the debate stage – he’s breaking all the norms and he’s showing that you can be who you are and gain that momentum, inspire other people.”
And despite their political differences, Fung said he hopes his connection with Yang can set an example of its own in an often polarized climate.
“At the end of the day, it doesn’t mean you can’t be friendly with each other, or even friends,” he said.