The city was hot, but that did not cool Cynthia Nixon. With fewer than five weeks to go before the New York Democratic Primary, Nixon was standing in hot sun with Zephyr Teachout, attorney general hopeful. The duo agreed about the need for new leaders who will dive into the murky doings of President Trump and guarantee the rights of all New Yorkers.
After all, this is the year of women. Spurred on by the #MeToo movement, more women have entered political races, more women are voting and the old-boy network is shaking. Now, the 52-year-old Nixon, best known as Miranda in Sex and the City, is sharing her progressive vision with New Yorkers of all ages, races and income levels.
As The Nation points out, Nixon may not have as much executive experience as her opponent, but as someone who grew up in a one-bedroom, 5-story walk-up with a single mother, who was educated in New York City’s public schools, who worked since age 12 and who has paid dues to four unions, she is a fighter and knows the city.
On sweltering subway platforms she talks with riders about how she will improve the neglected transit system when she becomes governor: “Cuomo is wasting $30 million on colorful tiles, instead of fixing the subways”—a project the New York Post called “his latest vanity project.” Early one evening she shares her feminist platform with members of The Wing, a hip women’s space in lower Manhattan, then she makes her way to DUMBO’s Super Fine restaurant where she is greeted by Gen-Xers and Millenials.
At The Wing, a women’s space in lower Manhattan, Cynthia Nixon and Wing member Aminatou Sow. . . . . . . . . . . . .
A few days later, she joins parents and students in Corona, Queens, calling out Cuomo for $42 million still owed to local schools. This is familiar territory for Nixon. In 2002, at the height of her Sex and the City fame, she was arrested for protesting inadequate school funding.
Since announcing her campaign in March, Nixon has attracted a growing number of supporters, whittling down Cuomo’s 40-point lead to under 30. Does she have a shot? “Yes,” says one CNN commentator, “There’s even a small chance of victory,” if she rallies liberals and upstate Dems who have tangled with Cuomo.
Pundits and the Democratic elite have been watching the race closely ever since Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s surprise victory over long-time incumbent U.S. Rep. Joe Crowley.
And then there is the election itself—Thursday, September 13. Typically in years that lack a presidential election turnout is low. A recent New York primary attracted only 12 percent of potential voters and this one—scheduled for a Thursday, rather than a Tuesday—might be lower. If Nixon can get enough voters to the polls, she might win.
Ocasio-Cortez, who won despite her poll rankings (which were even lower than Nixon’s), understands: “Upsets happen when you expand the electorate.” In her bid for NY14, there were as many young voters as voters over-60. Matt Hodges, who worked on political data for the Clinton campaign, called it “an unignorable bump on the younger end.” The age distribution of voters will have impact across the nation, as evidenced in the tight race in the Ohio 12th district, says Hodges.
“This race is indicative of the division that we saw in 2016; now it’s a real chasm,” says political scientist Christina Greer. Increasingly, Democratic voters are ignoring incumbents and backing candidates who address issues that impact their daily lives. As The Nation wrote in its endorsement, “Nixon has the life experience to be a governor of and for the people. If elected, she won’t be beholden to entrenched interests….We can surely count on her to shake up business as usual.”
A tireless campaigner, Nixon clearly (often with humor) checks off her differences with Cuomo, whom she declares is a Democrat in name only:
Money in politics: From the outset, Nixon ruled out corporate donations and PAC money. Instead she relies on small donations—98 percent are $200 or less. This is a David v. Goliath battle: Cuomo’s war chest is $31 million and growing, hers $1.6. In a story titled “Who Needs Small Donors When You Have Friends,” The New York Times wrote that most of Cuomo’s “small donations” were from allies, appointees, lobbyists and aides, one of whom gave 67 $1, $3 and $5 donations. A lobbyist who gave a small donation also wrote checks for $10,000 and $5,000 in the same period.
In fact, according to The Times, only one percent of Cuomo’s donations were $200 or less. The “big-money” governor gets the vast majority of contributions from corporate interests, lobbying firms, powerful unions and real estate developers. He has even accepted donations from Donald Trump in previous elections.
Public schools: Nixon proposes a birth-to-college approach to public education. New York, she says, “has the second most unequal funding of any school system in the country and the gap between our richest and our poorest schools …has grown 24 percent under Andrew Cuomo.” As governor she would ensure that all schools have the funding needed for quality education.
Public colleges and universities: Taking Cuomo to task for his “tuition-free program” at the city’s 24 public colleges and universities, Nixon notes that only 3.6 percent of all students qualify for entry under this plan. “As governor, I’ll pass real tuition-free college for students eligible for aid, including those who are part time. This would boost the number of eligible students by 170,000.”
#SchoolsNotJails: In Harlem with former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Nixon promises that all youths under the age of 18 will be sent to Family court for all offenses. Citing a cost of $350,000 per year per youths incarcerated, Nixon argues that it will be better to invest that money in elementary schools. To break the “school-to-prison pipeline,” she would end cash bail, end solitary confinement and end arrests for low-level offenses. (She also promises to legalize marijuana.)
Upgrade public transit, including subways, sewers and bridges, with a “millionaires’ tax” and a hefty fee for any company polluting in New York state. Her persistent call-outs for Cuomo’s failure to “Fix Our Subway”—a subway the governor hasn’t ridden since 2016—has made headlines nationwide. One tweet went viral.
Income inequality: “New York is home to 20 percent of our nation’s billionaires. We have everything we need to thrive.” Instead of lowering taxes on the wealthy and corporations like Cuomo and Trump, Nixon promises to raise them. “The top 1 percent of New Yorkers earn 45 times what the other 99 percent combined earn.”
Other progressive issues include: single-payer health care; rent control; reproductive freedom; environmental justice and renewable energy jobs. Notably, Nixon has received the endorsement of Judith Enck, former EPA regional administrator under Obama.
Celebrating Harlem Day with State Senate candidate Robert Jackson. . . . . . . . . . . . .
“In the 20th century, New York placed a bet on its workers and invested billions of dollars to unleash the strongest middle class the world has ever known,” says Nixon. “Now it’s time to make that same investment for a workforce that is more diverse and feminine than any in our history.”
Meanwhile, Governor Cuomo has been watching nervously, spending more than $5 million in July on polls alone. “He’s unraveling,” says Fordham University political scientist Christina Greer. And taking some quick steps to the left—what The New York Times calls “the Cynthia effect.”
“Ever since Cynthia Nixon announced her long-shot campaign to become New York’s next governor, the current incumbent has been a changed man,” comment The Nation’s editors with irony.
“After first refusing to endorse a $19 billion plan to overhaul New York City’s crumbling subways, the governor now supports it. Somewhere he also found a spare $250 million to address New York City’s ongoing public-housing emergency.” Cuomo even visited a public-housing project.
“Many people were saying that Cynthia Nixon’s run for governor was a kamikaze mission,” Fordham’s Greer said. “People are realizing that, in [Cuomo’s] quest for a third term, there are some really fundamental problems with his style of his leadership, the direction of his leadership.”
Voters are noticing: By August 15, Nixon had received over 41,000 donations—more than Cuomo had received since his entire time as governor.
But Cuomo’s team continues to belittle Nixon: “Managing the third largest economy in the U.S. is not a made-for-TV movie,” says campaign spokeswoman Liz Smith, as Cuomo tries his best to ignore her publicly. He didn’t show up at a debate in Westchester and ducked an invitation to a debate scheduled at Queens College on Aug. 22, to be aired by NY1. Finally, he set up a debate on Aug. 29 at Hofstra on WCBS—his first debate since becoming governor. Time, venue and format were all his choosing; Nixon was given no input. “Cuomo is apparently afraid to take on his own primary challenger unless everything is rigged in his favor,” the Post observed. “[A]t a time when as few voters as possible watch.” Bob Hardt, political director at NY1, said that if Cuomo did not show, he’d “risk alienating progressive Democrats.”
Showing up may well be what decides the race. Numerous organizations support Nixon, including Make the Road Action, New York Communities for Change, Citizen Action of New York, Young Progressives of America, the Working Families Party and Indivisible.
Nixon also has high-profile backing from former Obama officials, a growing number of local office holders, Sex and the City costars, actors Lena Dunham, Rosie O’Donnell and others. Many are attracted to Nixon because she’s not just pro-choice, she talks about her mother’s illegal abortion; she’s not just for public education, she attended public schools as have her children; and she is not just for the rights of LBGTQ, she is proudly married to a woman. As one organizer said of Nixon and other first-time candidates: “They don’t always look or sound like typical politicians and that’s part of their appeal…New Yorkers are tired of politicians who care more about their careers than their constituents.”