Maya Wiley, a former de Blasio administration official and civil rights attorney, formally launched her campaign for mayor on Thursday, gathering supporters on the steps of the Brooklyn Museum to make her case for what she called her “unconventional” candidacy, a theme also in her campaign video released the night before.

While she served for two years as legal counsel to Mayor Bill de Blasio, Wiley came out of the gate framing her candidacy as a break from “traditional” elected leaders and sought to distance herself from his legacy at City Hall. If elected, she would be the first woman mayor, and only the second Black mayor of New York City. 

“Some will say I don't sound like past mayors,” Wiley said, and then went further by taking a swipe at de Blasio and his long-shot presidential bid, which often took him out of the city in 2019, even during a blackout

“When I'm mayor, you will never have to wonder who is in charge. You will never have to question whether anyone is listening, whether the mayor even wants the job. You will never have to ask yourself whether you matter. You will never have to wonder whether I am in Iowa,” said Wiley, eliciting a snicker from the crowd. 

Wiley becomes the second high-profile candidate to officially enter the 2021 race for mayor, when city voters will choose who succeeds de Blasio, term-limited after eight years in office. City Comptroller Scott Stringer held his campaign kickoff last month. Other city officials including Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, former Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia, former Bloomberg and Obama administration official Shaun Donovan, are expected to launch campaigns in the coming weeks. 

Several other candidates also have committees set up through the city’s Campaign Finance Board.

The rumblings around Wiley’s candidacy began in July when she left her post as a legal analyst for MSNBC, the left-leaning cable news network, and The New York Times reported she was exploring a possible mayoral bid.

Earlier this summer, she was in the streets with New Yorkers protesting in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and demanding change from the New York City Police Department, an agency she once monitored as head of the civilian oversight agency that investigates police misconduct, Civilian Complaint Review Board.

Wiley chaired the CCRB for just over a year, stepping down in August 2017. Some police reform activists were critical of her tenure, saying she did not do enough to achieve transparency and discipline at the NYPD. In talking about her time there, Wiley focused on what she considered one of her most important achievements: recommending charges against Daniel Pantaleo, the police officer who killed Eric Garner, a move she claimed led to his dismissal from the police department. 

For some New Yorkers, Wiley will be a fresh face on the campaign trail. She was joined by her husband, two children and her brother. Wiley told the story of visiting New York as a child and falling in love with its possibility. 

“The mere existence of this place is a miracle,” she said.

Channeling the pain of the 24,000 families so far who have had someone die from Covid-19 pandemic, Wiley shared her own story of loss. When she was 9 and her brother was 10, they watched their father, civil rights leader Dr. George Wiley, drown while boating in the Chesapeake Bay. She said she and her brother had to look each in the eye, and then had to drive their boat back to shore. 

“That is survival. And that is what we must do now, as a city.  To look each other in the eye, like my brother and I did, and fight our way back together, even with the tears streaming down our faces,” she said.

If the speech offered a portrait of the kind of candidate Wiley will be on the stump—an effective orator, a compassionate storyteller—it did little to reveal what her policy priorities will be. She made rebuilding the city in the aftermath of the pandemic a priority, and talked about holding “people’s assemblies” across the city to come up with ideas for the recovery. 

She was also critical of the budget decisions under the current administration in the face of a $9 billion revenue shortfall, which she said led to cuts in education, affordable housing, and public transportation but left the police department budget “virtually untouched.”

Wiley was joined at Thursday’s announcement by members of her family along with Deputy Senate Majority Leader Michael Gianaris, Assemblymember Michael Brake, and two members of the City Council, Stephen Levin and Helen Rosenthal.

“Maya has come from a civil rights legacy that has shaped her core,” Blake said at Thursday’s event, before making his pitch to a specific audience. “To my fellow men, it's time to say that you're a man and a feminist at the same time. To my fellow Democrats, we can't keep saying that black women are the backbone of our party, but you won't support them to be mayor of New York City,” he added. 

Councilmember Rosenthal invoked the situation with homeless New Yorkers temporarily sheltered in a hotel on the Upper West Side, and described how Wiley came there to meet with some of the men, unlike the mayor who opted to move them to another hotel after powerful residents complained. 

As an elected official from the Upper West Side, Rosenthal made a pitch on Wiley’s behalf that would strike right in the heart of Stringer’s home territory.

Among the many challenges Wiley will face is fundraising. Currently, her campaign account is empty and she closed her launch video with a pitch for support.