Gus Christensen, a former JPMorgan derivatives trader and Goldman Sachs banker, wants to raise the New York state minimum wage to $15. The Upper East Sider, who was registered as a Republican until 2007, is now running for the state assembly as an Elizabeth Warren-style populist Democrat.
At the Lenox Hill Democratic Club dinner in February, Christensen outlined his platform: "stronger rights for workers and women, tougher regulation, cheaper housing and 'progress on inequality itself,'" Bloomberg News' Max Abelson reports. Christensen now serves as president of the club, a position some say he bought. He spent $2,600 on dues for 150 of his friends to join the club. Despite this and his "Omega watch and lapis cuff links," Christensen says he's sincere about helping the middle class.
Christensen tells Bloomberg, "I’m not angry at the barons of Wall Street. I don’t think that they’re collectively bad people who need to be punished. I am worried about the other side." He's has contributed about $145,000 to his own campaign.
So how will Christensen help "the other side"? Raise taxes on the wealthy. He agrees with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio that the state should fund universal pre-K. Christensen also wants to release "thousands" of nonviolent drug offenders from jail. He cites Elizabeth Warren as an example of a politician who has the right idea in Washington. The Massachusetts senator, famously, has gone after bad actors on Wall Street (including employees at Christensen's old workplaces) and pushed for tougher financial regulation.
While his recent, wholehearted embrace of the Democratic Party is somewhat unusual, Christensen is not the first candidate to use his wealth to try to win an election as a progressive Democrat. Democratic congressional candidate Sean Eldridge, who's married to Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes, has set up an entire venture capital firm in New York's 19th district to provide loans to local companies. His opponent, GOP Rep. Chris Gibson, insists, "there are some things money can’t buy."