It’s near impossible to find any political candidate not out there ready to share with you their entire resume from the moment you start shaking hands, to the split second you let go.
The men and women seeking to become New York City’s next mayor are no different, with backgrounds as varied as they come.
But it’s unlikely anyone has the experience Isaac Wright Jr., brings to the mayoral race. But then again, it’s the kind of experience he would’ve been happy never to have acquired. You know, the kind where you spent six years behind bars.
Yet prison is exactly where Wright spent most of the 1990s on drug charges — a place where a court later said Wright should never have landed.
Wright has been free for nearly 25 years now, leading a rather successful life as an attorney in New Jersey. No one asked him about what happened all those years ago. And by this point, many didn’t even know. That is until Hank Steinberg — the man behind the CBS show “Without a Trace” — came across Wright’s story and used it as inspiration for the ABC legal drama “For Life,” which premiered just before the coronavirus pandemic shut down the country.
Suddenly, everyone was talking about Wright’s wrongful conviction again. And the lawyer-turned-politician was a bit out of practice responding.
“Once it went out, I had to readjust my privacy level,” Wright says. “My skin is pretty tough. I think some of the things that I’ve been doing over the years — especially when I was going through those really, really trying times — I think prepared me for dealing with some of these very sensitive issues. Now it’s just a part of my life.”
Wright’s lawyers fought hard to get him out of prison, and ultimately got one of the charges tossed out. But Wright knew he wasn’t supposed to be behind bars, so he took matters in his own hands. He started studying law through the prison’s Inmate Legal Association, and focused on how prosecutors tried his case. He not only overturned his convictions in just a few years, but he also helped overturn convictions of some of his inmates, according to published reports.
Wright knew the law, and he wasn’t going to let anyone get crushed by it. It’s that kind of drive and perseverance he says New York City needs right now.
“The sheer magnitude of problems that New York has as a city, understanding that they’re very, very unique and specific problems — it’s going to take a special person that’s able to think outside the box,” Wright says.
“Someone that can clearly make the impossible possible.”
That list, however, doesn’t include those who do nothing but run for office and hold elected position. Sure, there are some benefits of having that kind of government experience. But Wright believes a mayor doesn’t just lead with doing the work, but inspiring the work as well.
“Career politicians, they are a part of a system that moves one way,” Wright says. “And, you know, you don’t really see a lot of creative thinking or just a lot of creativity. If you’re a borough president, or you’re a controller — if people’s lives during your tenure hadn’t changed when you were there, you’re not going to change when you’re mayor.”
Those are the same problems that also cause many electeds to wear blinders when it comes to any part of the city that’s not Manhattan, Wright said. Especially in the outer boroughs.
“When you look at boroughs like the Bronx, you’re looking at a borough that has been neglected by most leaders,” Wright says. “It comes down to money. ‘I have those promises I have to keep for whoever helped me get the most money. That’s where I’ve concentrated my attention.’ And that’s one of the reasons why the Bronx has been consistently left out. New York City needs a person who is not bought and sold before he gets into office.”
The Bronx certainly has issues that need to be addressed — like housing, employment, and especially health — but those are also issues that can be addressed at a wider level, Wright says, because if they’re being neglected here by City Hall, then they’re likely being neglected everywhere.
Still, he’s aware that the outer boroughs not named “Brooklyn” are almost always more of an after-thought than a first thought.
“The Bronx should be first in line, especially when it comes down to revitalization,” Wright says. “You need to be first in line, instead of last in line. And we can really make a difference.”
Wright’s name is not one that’s bounced about in political circles with the likes of Andrew Yang, Eric Adams or Kathryn Garcia. But just as he proved in the ‘90s, Wright says to never count him out. Especially when he knows he’s right.
“We have an incredible grassroots campaign, and a lot of times, what you hear above ground is not really what’s happening on the ground,” Wright says. “And I think that’s ultimately going to show when election time comes around. It’s going to show.”
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