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Mon Jun 10, 2019, 12:42 PM

Random Man Runs for President

he table was set for perhaps 15 people when Andrew Yang arrived at a Manhattan dinner party in the summer of 2017. The dinner’s sponsor was a club that describes its purpose as “exploring the big, bold ideas” of “America’s leading problem solvers.” The evening’s designated topic of discussion was the future of work. Earlier that year, Yang had stepped down from his job as chief executive of Venture for America, a nonprofit organization he founded to send young entrepreneurs to cities in need of economic revitalization.

Yang “came in and, being Andrew, kind of took over the room,” recalls fellow dinner guest Zach Graumann. At the time, Graumann was a 31-year-old wealth manager who ran a nonprofit on the side that Yang sometimes advised. “I think he’s going to give the Venture for America spiel. And he doesn’t,” Graumann says. Instead, Yang talked about how automation has displaced millions of workers in Middle America, and will soon displace millions more, pushing the country into social crisis. “He drops the bomb that most of America’s waking up to now,” Graumann remembers. “He drops what I call the ‘automation bomb,’ and why Trump is our president today, and he starts rattling off his stats and his vision.”

When Yang concluded by announcing that he was running for president, Graumann reacted in disbelief. “I was like: ‘Of America? President of America?’ ” Yang replied in the affirmative. “I was like, all right,” Graumann recalls. “Cool, man, I’ll help. I’m in.”

Graumann would later quit his job to work on Yang’s White House bid full time as his campaign manager. Together, they and two staff members laid the groundwork for the campaign, working out of an ad hoc office in a Midtown Manhattan apartment that Yang’s mother owned. None had ever worked in politics.


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