Cynthia Nixon spent Thursday traveling the New York State Thruway from Syracuse to Rochester as part of her upstate campaign swing. In between stops, the actor and underdog candidate talked about how Hillary Clinton’s loss in the 2016 presidential race helped inspire her to run for governor and why she thinks Andrew Cuomo is not doing enough to help the state.
Nixon, who said she’s been lobbying for 17 years at the State Capitol for education spending reform, said she’s thought about running for governor for eight years. But she said this political moment in time — with Clinton’s loss, Donald Trump’s win and the inspirational presidential campaign of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders — led her to finally take the plunge.
“Time’s up,” Nixon said. “Time’s up on waiting for progressive change in New York. We have to make it happen.”
Nixon said she doesn’t believe Cuomo is a true Democrat and believes that, until recently, he was too cozy with Republicans who rule the state Senate.
“Andrew Cuomo is trying to discover the progressive part of himself, and the anti-Trump part of himself,” Nixon said. “But the fact of the matter is that for eight years, he’s completely governed like a fiscal Republican, and he’s completely empowered the Republicans.”
Cuomo appeared with the leaders of two warring Democratic factions in the Senate this week to announce a truce between the mainline Democrats and the Independent Democratic Conference. They said they will merge and work to get more Democrats elected to the Senate.
Nixon, who’s been calling for a Democratic-controlled state Senate, said it’s too little, too late.
“For eight years, he’s been saying this had nothing to do with him and it’s beyond his control,” Nixon said. “But as soon as he wants to pull the trigger on this, he pulls the trigger, and boom — the IDC is reconciled.”
“It’s an incredibly cynical move,” she added.
She said if the governor had announced the unification just a couple of weeks earlier, he might have succeeded in getting several progressive items into the state budget, which was approved on March 31. They include the Dream Act to give college aid to the children of undocumented immigrants, the Child Victims Act for survivors of childhood sexual assault and early voting procedures. Those measures were dropped in the final spending plan because of resistance in the Republican-led state Senate.
Nixon is an underdog in the race. Cuomo is far ahead in early public polls, and has a $30 million campaign war chest and the support of some key labor unions.
Cuomo has been reluctant so far to address any of his political challengers directly. There are also two Republican announced candidates, state Senate Deputy Majority Leader John DeFrancisco and Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro.
The governor was asked about the race when he spoke with reporters after the Senate Democrats’ reunification announcement on Wednesday.
“I take every candidacy seriously; you make a mistake if you don’t,” Cuomo said. “Anybody can run, and I’ve very proud of what I’ve accomplished. I’m proud of my record. I think we have the most progressive record in the country in this state.”
Cuomo said even with a Republican Senate, he’s achieved passage of marriage equality, an increase in the minimum wage, paid family leave and raising the age of incarceration in state prisons from age 16 to 18.
Cuomo said he’ll “put that record against anybody’s record anytime.”
Nixon said in addition to running in the Democratic Party primary, she’s also competing with Cuomo to actively seek the nomination of the Working Families Party, a progressive group that gave Cuomo the nomination four years ago but has had its differences with the incumbent governor.
“They are a really important force in this country fighting for working people,” she said.
Nixon said she’s “not prepared to say” whether she’d stay on the third party ballot until November if she wins its nomination but loses the Democratic primary.
The executive director of the Working Families Party, Bill Lipton, is staying neutral, saying the 232 committee members will “carefully evaluate the arguments on both sides” and make the decision that’s best for the state’s working families.