Gotham Gazette Sat, 22 Sep 2018 17:14:22 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) Max & Murphy Podcast: Primary Post-Mortem with Rebecca Katz, Top Cynthia Nixon Strategist mxm logo

Ben Max, left, of Gotham Gazette, and Jarrett Murphy, right, of City Limits

September 19, 2018 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Primary Post-Mortem with Rebecca Katz, Top Cynthia Nixon Strategist

rebecca katz 277Rebecca Katz was the chief strategist for Cynthia Nixon's campaign for governor. Katz, a principal at Hilltop Public Solitions and veteran of Bill de Blasio's 2013 campaign and 2014 City Hall, joined the show to recap and dissect the primary election between Nixon and Governor Andrew Cuomo, who prevailed by a wide margin against the first-time candidate. Katz described some of the strategies behind the campaign, working closely with Nixon, preparing for the lone Nixon-Cuomo debate, and much more.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @JarrettMurphy. You can listen to the show through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts, under "Max & Murphy," and listen to Max & Murphy live on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. on WBAI radio, 99.5FM or

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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Max & Murphy Podcast: Primary Post-Mortem with Rebecca Katz, Top Cynthia Nixon Strategist Wed, 19 Sep 2018 04:00:00 +0000
The Real Story of Cuomo’s Dominant Primary Win Glaser Cuomo

Gov. Cuomo, right, & Howard Glaser, the author, middle-left (Governor's Office)

Findley Lake, in Chautauqua County, on the western edge of the state, is about as far as you can drive from the Bronx and still be in New York State. It’s as close to Cleveland, Ohio as eastern Suffolk County is to the Grand Concourse. Chautauqua is a big county, land-wise, 1,100 square miles -- about 25 times larger than the Bronx. People in Chautauqua are spread out among rolling farmlands and lakes, about 132 residents in a square mile. The Bronx crams 34,000 souls into the same mile. Chautauqua is also about as white as you can get, 94 percent, while the Bronx is New York’s most-black county, with 430 out of every 1,000 residents.

You could argue that there are not two places in the state more separated by geography, racial makeup, culture, and politics. Yet, in last week’s Democratic primary, one thing joined, however briefly, midwestern Chautauqua and urban Bronx: they both delivered overwhelming electoral victory to Andrew Cuomo.

The Bronx went for Cuomo by over 80 percent, his highest margin in the state. Chautauqua delivered 64 percent for Cuomo, not quite the stratospheric number of the Bronx but an even higher percentage than Cuomo’s otherwise crushing margins in Brooklyn and Manhattan.

You could conjure up pretty much any other divide from this diverse state and the result would be the same. Nassau, the state’s richest county (median or family income), just about matched the poorest county (Bronx again) with 77 percent for Cuomo. Union households and non-union households were on the same track, according to Siena’s polling. And voters under 34 were actually more likely to vote Cuomo than voters aged 35-54, confounding conventional wisdom about where newly energized young voters would go (Cuomo won decisively across all age groups).

It’s no secret that Cuomo was backed by New York’s real estate community. But he was equally backed by tenants -- 80 percent of Bronx households are renters. He won those fed up with high taxes in Suffolk in almost equal numbers with tax and spend Upper West Side liberals. He won minimum wage workers in New York City and dominated among small business owners in the North Country, where small businesses represent over 90 percent of total businesses.

All of this in as high turnout a primary election as New York has ever seen.

So what to make of this absolutely dominant showing by Cuomo?

Much of the post-primary press narrative went like this: "Cynthia Nixon lost but progressives won because she moved Cuomo to the left. Cuomo’s margin was due to Nixon being a flawed candidate and Cuomo’s significant outspending over Nixon.”

Those are nice and simple memes, but they don't explain the results in any way. The near run of the table by Cuomo suggests this: New Yorkers weren’t buying what Nixon was selling.

If anything, New York as a whole demonstrated that New Yorkers like their progressivism, but they like it tempered with fiscal reality, with experience, and the desire and ability to find common ground between Findley Lake and Pelham Bay. That’s not what Nixon was selling -- but its Cuomo’s whole brand.

Nixon’s poor showing can’t be explained by being outspent. Money counts most in elections when it’s used to define a lesser-known candidate or a barely-known opponent. The Cuomo-Nixon matchup was the polar opposite. Every primary voter knew exactly who Cuomo was and knew exactly who Nixon was. And Nixon’s campaign wasn’t exactly cash-strapped. Even in New York, $2 million is real money. Had she spent three times more and Cuomo spent a third of his final tally, the result wouldn’t have been significantly different. New York primary voters are as sophisticated as anywhere on the planet. To suggest that only 7 percent of African-Americans supported Nixon because they were duped by ads is insulting or worse. She got her message out and New Yorkers, across the board, rejected it.

Nor was she the ineffective campaigner that she’s widely been made out to be. Her performance in the debate was more than credible. She’s a gifted communicator who produced strong ads. And while her depth on specifics was clearly limited, she expressed a grasp of the issues that wasn’t significantly different from that of the average politician. Campaigns expose a candidate’s flaws, and this campaign was no different in showing both Nixon’s and Cuomo’s vulnerabilities. She made mistakes but nothing disqualifying, holding her own, especially for a novice campaigner. And New Yorkers still said ‘fuhgeddaboudit.’

But perhaps the biggest myth of the primary is the “Cynthia Effect,” the proposition that Nixon pushed Cuomo left. She won by losing, goes the logic, because the specter of Nixon rallying activist Democrats forced Cuomo to adopt more progressive positions than he otherwise would have. The problems with this bit of conventional wisdom are manifold.

First, the polling on Cuomo’s standing with the Democratic left has consistently shown this is his strongest base of support since he ran for governor in 2010. He didn’t need to move left to gain progressive support, progressives have been his for almost a decade. As Siena pollster Steve Greenberg told me in analyzing the post election results, “Liberals like him, they have always liked him, and they continue to like him.” So it’s not surprising Cuomo outperformed Nixon even among the most progressive wing of the party. Siena’s pre-primary poll gave Cuomo a commanding 65-24 lead among those Democrats who self-described as liberal. Cuomo polled identically with moderates, and only somewhat lower with conservative Democrats. In other words, a Cynthia Effect with no effect.

The argument that Cuomo’s support for progressive issues suddenly sprang out of nowhere only after Nixon announced her run is belied by the facts. Marriage equality in 2011, the gun restrictive SAFE Act in 2013, banning fracking in 2014, $15 minimum wage and paid family leave in 2016 — progressive touchstones brought home by Cuomo, all years before a Nixon candidacy was a gleam in the eye of the Working Families Party.

The outcome should also put to rest the internecine divide in the Democratic Party over the question of whether the path to victory for Democrats can rely alone on registering, rallying, and turning out progressives. The theory on the left has been that if the party focuses on turning progressives out in force, it can win without diluting purity of message by trying to win over moderates or, heaven forbid, conservatives. Thus, say some Democrats in the post-Clinton era, there’s really no need to reach out beyond the base, just turn out the base and sweet victory will ensue.

The Cuomo-Nixon primary is the highest profile race to blow that nonsense aside. Turnout in the primary was sky-high, shocking political pros from both ends of the party. Nixon, the “pure” progressive, scored a paltry share of that enhanced turnout. According to the Democratic left orthodoxy, those new voters we saw waxing enthusiastically in Brooklyn coffeehouses should have been enough to hand her a nomination. They weren’t, it wasn’t -- and it won’t ever be. Not in a state this diverse in political and cultural make-up. (And while typically a spike in turnout amid an influx of newly registered voters signals trouble for an incumbent, in this race it appeared to have only further bolstered Cuomo’s margins, another sign of Cuomo’s unusually broad coalition.)

By defining Nixon’s loss as purely a function of Cuomo’s political muscle or Nixon’s inexperience, members of the media, progressive leaders, and others take the wrong lesson from the results. No candidate from the Sanders/Warren/Nixon wing of the party has been able to equally appeal to black voters in Brooklyn, Latinos in the Bronx, moderates in the suburbs, blue collar whites in Buffalo, and farmers in Chautauqua. Without that ability, would-be progressive leaders are talking to themselves. They narrow their appeal while Cuomo, carrying a results-oriented progressive standard cabined by fiscal restraint, reached Democrats across the board.

It’s a big state where diversity of interests doesn’t end at the New York City border. The message for progressives out of this election is not to double down on talking to each other (hello, Twitter) but to talk to, listen to, and persuade the non-converted.

New Yorkers made a conscious choice to embrace Cuomo’s realpolitik progressivism and reject Nixon’s ‘progressivism only for progressives.’ Most importantly, you can’t win in New York, or for that matter in the nation, by utterly failing to win over black voters -- Nixon likely got less than one in ten African-American votes, a shameful showing. She likely picked up less than a third of women’s votes. These numbers should force some soul searching by progressive leaders. “Nixon won by losing” is a useful piece of self-delusion in the wake of utter repudiation. But it’s a complete misread of the lessons of Cuomo’s victory for a successful progressive coalition on a statewide -- or national -- basis.

Howard Glaser has served in executive positions in the public and private sectors for 35 years. He served as Director of State Operations in Governor Andrew Cuomo’s first term, and spent this past year teaching urban policy at Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute at Hunter College. On Twitter @hglaser1.

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The Real Story of Cuomo’s Dominant Primary Win Sun, 16 Sep 2018 04:00:00 +0000
A Closer Look at Democratic Primary Turnout, Margins and Geography cuomo voting 2018 primary

Gov. Cuomo voting in Thursday's primary (photo: @NYGovCuomo)

The Democratic gubernatorial primary between Governor Andrew Cuomo and Cynthia Nixon saw a significant surge in voter participation, but turnout still stood at only 27 percent of active registered Democrats.

Compared to the 2014 primary election, when Zephyr Teachout challenged Cuomo, who was then seeking a second term, turnout more than doubled, according to preliminary numbers. And, turnout spiked slightly more in New York City than elsewhere. Specifically, 28 percent of registered Democrats in New York City voted in the 2018 primary while 24.5 percent voted outside of the city — 2.8 and 2.3 times as many voted in 2014, respectively, when around 10 percent of those eligible cast a ballot.

“As far as the race for governor goes, turnout was greatly improved in the city and throughout the state. That was very impressive,” said Steven Romalewski, director of the Mapping Service at CUNY’s Center for Urban Research, in an interview Friday. “It wasn’t just a modest increase compared with the somewhat anemic turnout statewide in 2014.”

“The number of voters went from 575,000 to 1.5 million,” he added. There were 5,621,811 million active registered Democrats across the state as of April 1, according to the State Board of Elections. Turnout was likely aided by a number of factors, including the high number of competitive races, including three statewide positions and the challenges to former members of the Senate Independent Democratic Conference and Democrats’ post-Trump awakening.

Cuomo won this year’s primary with 978,138 votes to Nixon’s 512,585, as of the preliminary count, for 65.6 percent to 34.4 percent. In 2014, Cuomo received 361,380 votes (63 percent), and Teachout earned 192,210 votes (33.5 percent); comedian and activist Randy Credico picked up the remaining votes and about 3 percent.

In Cuomo’s win, he captured broad support across the state, earning about 67 percent of the vote in New York City and 64 percent outside the city, with the exception of a few geographic regions. He performed particularly well in majority-black areas of the city, especially in the Bronx — he won 83 percent in the borough overall — Harlem, and Central Brooklyn. Nixon, for her part, received a good share of votes in whiter, gentrified parts of Brooklyn, competed better with Cuomo in Manhattan, where she earned 41 percent of the vote, her best borough, and the Queens waterfront, posting her best numbers, like Teachout four years ago, in areas of the city home to many white progressives. Nixon also performed fairly well in some upstate areas, such as Albany County, and also beat Cuomo in counties surrounding it, along with Tomkins and Lewis counties to its west and north, respectively.

Turnout was so much higher that Nixon earned 320,375 more total votes than Cuomo did in 2014, but still won about the same percentage as Teachout did that year.

Cuomo’s win was so solid, and the city’s share of the vote so significant, that the governor’s total votes from Brooklyn, Manhattan, the Bronx, and Queens eclipsed Nixon’s statewide total.

The other two statewide Democratic primaries, for Lieutenant Governor and Attorney General, followed a similar pattern, with incumbent Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul again winning the party’s nomination and New York City Public Advocate Letitia James prevailing in a four-way Attorney General race with no incumbent.

Specifically, James’ base was predictably in the city; Zephyr Teachout performed well in the Hudson Valley as well as parts of Brooklyn home to many white progressives, the Upper West Side, and Greenwich Village (places Nixon received a large share of votes); and Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney performed best further upstate and in Western New York.

In total, James won 40.6 percent of the vote, Teachout 31, Maloney 25, and Eve 3.4.

Teachout’s and Maloney’s combined votes totalled 800,398 — 221,016 more votes than what James received, perhaps suggesting had only one of the candidates been in the race he or she would have had a strong chance. Given their similar voter base and James stranglehold on New York City, neither was likely to be able to pull off a victory given the other’s presence, as Gotham Gazette last week reported looked likely.

In the Lieutenant Governor race Hochul unofficially received 733,591 votes, or 53.3 percent, to Williams’ 641,631 votes, or 46.7 percent.

Williams received the lion’s share of his votes in New York City, particularly Brooklyn, where he is from and represents a City Council district. Twenty-six percent of his total votes were cast in his favor in Brooklyn, but he was defeated by Hochul nearly everywhere else save Manhattan, and Tompkins and Columbia Counties. In New York City, Hochul received more votes than Williams in the three other boroughs, Queens, the Bronx, and Staten Island, and she did slightly better than Williams throughout most of the state.

Vote totals were slightly lower in both the Attorney General and Lieutenant Governor primaries than the race for Governor, as evidently some voters chose Cuomo or Nixon but left their ballots blank in one or more of the two other statewide races.

In unofficial totals, 1,375,222 votes were counted in the Lieutenant Governor race and 1,428,418 votes in the Attorney General race, compared to 1,490,723 in the gubernatorial race, leaving roughly 115,500 who voted in the Governor's race but did not pick either of the major candidates in the Lieutenant Governor race (some may have done write-ins), and about 62,300 who did the same in the Attorney General race.

But while Nixon lost by a large margin, and fellow insurgents Teachout and Williams lost as well, the progressive energy appeared to have a massive effect down-ballot, as six candidates challenging former members of the Senate Independent Democratic Conference, a group of eight breakaway Democrats who caucused with Republicans in the state Senate, ousted the incumbents, and another insurgent, leftist candidate unseated another sitting senator representing part of the city.

Challengers Alessandra Biaggi, Jessica Ramos, John Liu, Zellnor Myrie, Robert Jackson, and Rachel May defeated IDC Senators Jeff Klein, Jose Peralta, Tony Avella, Jesse Hamilton, Marisol Alcantara, and David Valesky, respectively. One-time IDC Senators Diane Savino and David Carlucci fended off their challengers. Five of the districts where the incumbent IDC senators were beaten are fully or mostly in New York City. Julia Salazar also beat Senator Martin Dilan, who is not an IDC member, in Brooklyn. The progressive energy did not push Blake Morris to victory over Senator Simcha Felder, a Democrat who is a member of the Republican conference.

Turnout in those Senate primaries varied somewhat. Senate District 34, represented by IDC founder and former leader Jeff Klein, had 23.2 percent turnout for Biaggi’s win, while in District 22, where Salazar ran a scandal-plagued but winning race against Dilan, turnout was 24 percent. Biaggi won with an unofficial 53 percent to Klein’s 44.5 percent. She did very well in the western portion of the district, including Riverdale, while Klein did well in the eastern section, including parts that overlap with soon-to-be U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s district.

Salazar, meanwhile, won with an unofficial 54 percent to Dilan’s 39 percent. She performed best in areas of the district that have seen widespread gentrification, like Bushwick, Williamsburg, and Greenpoint, while Dilan performed best in the comparatively lower-income eastern part of the district.

Myrie beat Hamilton by roughly 20 points in District 20 in central Brooklyn and parts of Park Slope, relying heavily on votes from areas home to more white progressive. In Queens, Liu received 53 percent of the vote to Avella’s 47 percent, reversing the outcome of their 2014 primary race, and Ramos earned 55 percent of the vote to Peralta’s 45 percent.

Jackson beat Alcantara on the west side of Manhattan with 53 percent of the vote to her 36 percent, while two other candidates combined for 5 percent. In that race, which includes parts of the always-active Upper West Side, turnout was an above-average 30 percent.

Ben Brachfeld and Ben Max contributed to this article.

A Closer Look at Democratic Primary Turnout, Margins and Geography Sun, 16 Sep 2018 04:00:00 +0000
2018 New York State Primary Results: Cuomo, Hochul, James Prevail While Senate Upsets Abound cuomo james hochul

(photo: @andrewcuomo)

Governor Andrew Cuomo won the Democratic nomination by a wide margin Thursday, with his running-mate Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul surviving a much closer race, Public Advocate Letitia James prevailing comfortably in a crowded Attorney General primary, and more than half a dozen upsets of sitting state Senators, including six of the eight former members of the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC).

Additionally, voter turnout was significantly higher than 2014, the last gubernatorial election year, perhaps owing to the combination of the number and intensity of the challenges to incumbents as well as the awakening spurred by the election of Donald Trump, which itself contributed to those challenges being waged.

Cuomo, who spent more than $20 million in the campaign, defeated actor and activist Cynthia Nixon by about 30 percentage points; the governor seeking a third term earning more than 64% to Nixon’s 34.6%, with 96% of precincts reporting as of about 11:30 p.m. primary night.

Hochul beat Williams by about 53% to 47% in what was a hard-fought Lieutenant Governor primary.

James won the four-way Democratic primary for Attorney General, pulling in 40% to 31% for Zephyr Teachout, 25% for Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, who will now seek reelection to the House of Representatives, and 3% for Leecia Eve.

With the state party-backed candidates, including incumbents Cuomo and Hochul, winning those statewide primaries (Comptroller Tom DiNapoli was not challenged), perhaps the biggest storyline of the night was progressive upsets that occurred in state Senate primaries, including the complete demolish of the IDC, which had folded back into the mainline Democratic minority conference in April, in a deal brokered by Cuomo.

The former leader of the IDC, Senator Jeff Klein, was defeated by Alessandra Biaggi in the Bronx and Westchester seat, despite Klein spending well over $1 million in the race.

Other IDC races included Jessica Ramos unseating Senator Jose Peralta in Queens; Robert Jackson unseating Senator Marisol Alcantara in Manhattan; Zellnor Myrie unseating Senator Jesse Hamilton in Brooklyn; John Liu unseating Senator Tony Avella in Queens; and Rachel May unseating Senator David Valesky in the Syracuse area.

Former IDC members who beat back challengers were Senator Diane Savino of Staten Island and Brooklyn, who defeated Jasmine Robinson, and Senator David Carlucci of Rockland, who defeated Julie Goldberg.

In another upset, Julia Salazar unseated Senator Martin Dilan in Brooklyn.

Senator Simcha Felder, a Brooklyn Democrat who has been part of the Republican conference, giving the GOP a one-seat majority, defeated challenger Blake Morris.

In a Democratic primary to see who will take on Republican Brooklyn Senator Martin Golden in the general election, Andrew Gounardes defeated Ross Barkan.
There were far fewer storylines in Assembly races, but Catalina Cruz did unseat Assemblymember Ari Espinal in a Democratic primary in Queens. Democratic Assemblymember Brian Barnwell held off a challenge from Melissa Sklarz; As of Friday morning, votes were still being counted in the 46th Assembly district in Brooklyn where Mathylde Frontus is leading with 40.68 percent against Ethan Lustig-Elgrably, who has 39.75 percent of the vote; and Michael Reilly won the primary in the Republican Assembly stronghold on the South Shore of Staten Island, where no incumbent is running.

Additionally, Nancy Sliwa won a three-candidate race for the Reform Party nomination for Attorney General.

All of the primary winners will now move on to the general election, where a statewide slate of Republican nominees has been waiting -- the GOP strategically avoided any statewide primaries -- along with some minor party candidates. Along with the statewide races, the focus for the general election will be on which party can win the requisite seats to control the state Senate (the Assembly is overwhelmingly Democratic and will remain so), and battleground House races where New York swing seats could factor into whether Democrats can take control of that congressional chamber.

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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Note- This article has been updated to clarify that Ethan Lustic-Elgrably has not been declared the winner in Brooklyn's 46th Assembly district. Votes were still being counted as of Friday morning. 

2018 New York State Primary Results: Cuomo, Hochul, James Prevail While Senate Upsets Abound Thu, 13 Sep 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Cuomo and Hochul Win Primaries, Again Form Democratic General Election Ticket cuomo primary podium

Gov. Cuomo (photo: @andrewcuomo)

Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, won his party’s nomination for a third term on Thursday, after a bruising primary battle against actor and education activist Cynthia Nixon, who challenged him from his left. Cuomo won with about 65 percent of the vote against Nixon’s 35 percent. Joining Cuomo on the Democratic ticket is Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, who won the party nomination over her own primary challenger, New York City Council Member Jumaane Williams. Hochul received 53 percent against Williams’ 47 percent.

Thursday’s result was hardly a surprise, though turnout was much higher than four years ago. Cuomo consistently led Nixon in public polling over the last few months, and spent more than $20 million to beat back the insurgent first-time candidate, blanketing the airwaves with advertisements across the state. Nixon ran a far leaner campaign, spending barely $2 million as she attempted to unseat the incumbent, who was running on achievements of his two terms and his pledge to fight President Trump.

Nixon touted her experience as a long-time activist on education, LGBT issues, and women’s reproductive rights as she sought to be the state’s first female and first openly queer governor. Though Nixon was hoping that a wave of progressive energy would carry her down what she had admitted was a “narrow path” to victory, relying mostly on digital and social media to get her message out, her lack of government experience hampered her electoral chances, as several newspaper editorial boards noted when they endorsed Cuomo for reelection.

The power of incumbency and the support of the State Democratic Party, not to mention several prominent labor unions and wealthy donors, propelled the governor’s campaign. He has another $16 million at his campaign’s disposal for the general election, and will easily add millions more to his coffers. With New York home to two registered Democratic voters for every Republican, Cuomo is widely expected to prevail against Republican Marc Molinaro and smaller party challengers.

Cuomo, by all accounts, took Nixon’s challenge more seriously than he did the 2014 challenge he won in the Democratic primary against Fordham Law professor Zephyr Teachout, who was briefly Nixon’s campaign treasurer before running for the Democratic attorney general nomination that she lost on Thursday. In 2014, Teachout pulled 33.5 percent of the vote against Cuomo’s 63 percent (Randy Credico received about 3.5 percent), almost exactly the same vote shares as Thursday’s primary. Teachout got a total of 192,210 votes that year to Cuomo’s 361,380; Nixon pulled 443,014 to Cuomo’s 833,616, with 86 percent of precincts reporting.

Nixon ran an unabashedly progressive campaign, advocating a raft of proposals that she said Cuomo has refused to support or had done little to pass. She accused him of governing like a Republican, and for enabling the state Senate’s Independent Democratic Conference, which caucused with Republicans in the majority for years before rejoining their own party conference in April. Cuomo’s move to reunify the conference was largely attributed to Nixon posing a primary challenge. Most of the former members of the IDC lost their own primaries on Thursday in a rousing series of upsets.

At an election night watch party hosted by the Working Families Party in Brooklyn, a packed room cheered Nixon as she took the stage. “We took on one of the most powerful governors in America,” she said. “It wasn’t easy.”

Nixon claimed a measure of success, emphasizing how she pushed Cuomo to the left and shifted the state’s political landscape and said her campaign was part of an ongoing effort to take the Democratic Party from those too close to corporations and big donors. “We have changed what is expected of a Democratic candidate running in New York and what we can demand from our elected leaders...Ours isn’t just a symbolic victory. This campaign forced the Governor to make concrete commitments that will change the lives of people across this state,” she said.

For his part, Cuomo put forth his marquee accomplishments, such as passing marriage equality, strict gun control measures, a $15 mimum wage program, paid family leave, and a multitude of infrastructure projects. He ran on his experience, government know-how, and early efforts to fight Trump with new laws and lawsuits, as well as programs to step in where the federal government has failed, such as Puerto Rico hurricane recovery. He tried to sidestep questions about corruption in his economic development programs and his mismanagement of the MTA.

It was a rocky race at times for both sides. Nixon struggled to articulate an in-depth knowledge of issues at times or to clearly explain her policy plans, which were extensive. Cuomo’s campaign surrogates and spokespeople made light of her inexperience, at times using gendered language to denigrate her candidacy. Cuomo chose to focus his own attacks on Trump, pitching himself as the candidate best poised to stand firm against a Republican-led federal government.

Nixon and Cuomo only faced each other once, at the sole televised debate in the race, hosted by WCBS at Hofstra University. Both sides proclaimed victory after the hour-long face off, though neither was given time to present a cogent vision and discussion of substantive policy issues was sparse.

The last week of the race was its ugliest, with the Cuomo campaign scrambling to contain the fallout from two scandals in quick succession. In the first, more benign of the two instances, Cuomo announced the opening of the new span of the Governor Mario M. Cuomo bridge -- formerly the Governor Malcolm Wilson Tappan Zee Bridge -- only to reverse after safety concerns emerged about the old bridge that could have impacted the new one. Cuomo denied having sped up the opening for political purposes but a New York Times report cast doubts on the story.

The second, more enduring scandal, extended from the weekend before the primary to the night before, over an 11th-hour mailer sent by the state Democratic Committee, which Cuomo controls, seeking to paint Nixon as anti-Semitic. Again, repeated denials from Cuomo and State Party executive director Geoff Berman that the mailer was a mistake and neither of them were aware of it didn’t seem to pass muster. On Wednesday, it emerged that the culprit was Larry Schwartz, a former top Cuomo aide and campaign advisor, who claimed the mailer was accidentally sent out without being properly proofread despite reported emails from another Cuomo campaign aide that undercut the denials.

For the waning days of the primary, Cuomo avoided the press, jetting around the city and state without releasing a public schedule. On election night, the governor was in Albany while the state Democratic Party held a celebration in Manhattan.

In the lieutenant governor race, Williams posed a credible threat to Hochul, with strong name recognition in Brooklyn, a borough with a concentration of Democratic primary voters. Polls showed them somewhat close though Hochul consistently had a lead. Williams sought to redefine the role of lieutenant governor, labelling his opponent a “rubber stamp” on the governor’s policies and failures. He said, rather, that he would act as a check on the governor.

Hochul, an upstate Democrat, likely recognized her electoral weakness in the city and spent significant time courting African-American and Hispanic voters, essential to winning a statewide Democratic primary. At the same time, her campaign received criticism for her racially tinged attacks on Williams’ financial struggles, stemming from a failed business and large loans that he owed. Otherwise, she ran as a partner to Cuomo, touting her work on a task force on the opioid epidemic and economic development programs upstate -- often seeking to avoid discussion of the corruption scandals that have marred them -- and her advocacy for survivors of sexual assault.

She also repeatedly pointed to Williams’ conservative personal positions on abortion and marriage equality. The Council member had to justify those opinions throughout the campaign, explaining that they are his own personally held views and that he has never and would never vote against the rights of women and the LGBTQ community.

Williams similarly brought up Hochul’s own conservative past, including her relationship with the National Rifle Association and her outright opposition to granting driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants, both positions on which she has distanced herself and expressed regret.

In the November general election, Cuomo and Hochul will run on a joint ticket against Dutchess county executive Marc Molinaro, the Republican nominee for governor, and his running mate, Julie Killian, a former Rye City Council Member who recently ran unsuccessfully for state Senate, as well as the tickets of the Green and Libertarian parties, among others, like former Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner and her running mate, who have created their own independent ballot line.

The general election is November 6.

by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette

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Cuomo and Hochul Win Primaries, Again Form Democratic General Election Ticket Fri, 14 Sep 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Cuomo Gives Limited Insight Into Third Term Agenda 25607923588 ab257e6d2d z

(Photo: Mike Groll- Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo)

As Governor Andrew Cuomo seeks a third term in office, facing actor and education activist Cynthia Nixon in the primary on Thursday, he has pitched himself as a man of action, a chief executive who gets things done with little regard for politicking. But as even Nixon acknowledges Cuomo as a heavy favorite and Cuomo remains the likeliest winner in November, the Democratic incumbent has largely run on his accomplishments, perceived, exaggerated, and real, while downplaying his actual tendency for political gamesmanship, and has proposed few new ideas about what he will deliver for the state if re-elected.

Nor has Cuomo given much attention to even the long-standing policies and programs that he has supported in the past that would appear to form the foundation of a rationale for another term. His campaign website, perhaps the easiest place for a candidate to outline his or her proposals, offers virtually no mention of forward-looking policy, instead touting the governor’s two-term record on several high-profile issues, like marriage equality, the minimum wage, and gun control.

In their only debate of the race, hosted by WCBS, Cuomo and Nixon were not afforded time to give opening or closing statements to lay out their respective visions for the state -- a format that Cuomo is said to have held great sway over in agreeing to the one debate -- and Cuomo is notoriously averse to taking questions from reporters both at campaign and government events, though he does take a handful of questions after some appearances. He has done no sit-down TV or radio interviews to discuss his re-election bid, and has spoken with one print reporter at length, Chris Smith of New York Magazine. The governor has largely centered his pitch around fighting President Donald Trump.

But in April, when Cuomo brought together a split Democratic conference in the state Senate, he came closer than he has since to articulating a legislative agenda for his third term, listing off priorities that he has long expressed support for but that he said Republican senators had shown they will not pass. A Cuomo campaign spokesperson said the governor typically outlines new proposals in his January State of the State address, which is a government event.

Cuomo’s critics have derided him as a Clintonian centrist who has, for two terms, triangulated with Republicans and members of his own party to deliver a mixed record of achievement. He has undoubtedly ushered progressive policies through the state Legislature, such as marriage equality and significant gun regulations, while conceding to popular demand for others, including a $15 minimum wage program, paid family leave, and raising the age of criminal responsibility.

But Cuomo has failed in the eyes of many progressives who say he has shown only performative support for their various priorities. The state’s campaign finance and ethics laws remain woefully anaemic, with Cuomo taking full advantage of loopholes and seeing top aides convicted of corruption; while voting and elections laws are considered archaic and even suppressive. The governor has not enacted speedy trial reform or done away with cash bail. Activists believe he hasn’t provided equitable funding for under-resourced schools and hasn’t paid enough attention to environmental justice issues. They critique him for largely ignoring a housing affordability crisis across the state, only paying attention to public housing when it fit his political needs, and channeling billions to economic development programs rife with corruption and conflicts of interest and showing lackluster results. He has also raised the ire of many on the left by not winning codification of the abortion protections of Roe v. Wade or the Dream Act, and hasn’t pushed for state-funded single-payer healthcare or driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants.

And perhaps the biggest black eye of all that cuts across political ideologies and allegiances, he has let New York City’s subway system fall into crisis while refusing to rightfully take ownership of the state authority that controls it.

Cuomo has said he can achieve most, if not all of those agenda items in a third term if Democrats win full control of the state Legislature, which would require only a net gain of one seat in the state Senate (the Assembly is overwhelmingly Democratic). Here again, Cuomo has been criticized for tolerating -- some say enabling -- an eight-member rogue Democratic faction in the Senate called the Independent Democratic Conference that caucused with Republicans to either create or bolster the GOP majority.

After years of insisting he was helpless to bring them back into the mainline Democratic conference -- and blaming Republicans for not moving legislation he says he supports -- he did just that in April, promising that New York can yet again be a progressive leader on legislation across the country once Democrats pick up more seats to get a numerical majority in the 63-member Senate. The Republican conference currently holds 32 seats including conservative Brooklyn Democrat Senator Simcha Felder, who Cuomo has also apparently left alone in his movement across the aisle.

When Cuomo announced he had brokered the Democratic “unity” deal in April, wherein all involved pledged not to support primary challengers to the others, he provided something of an agenda for 2019, if not beyond, briefly rattling off priorities that he has long-backed but that he said Republicans senators had shown they will not pass.

“We did a lot of good things in the budget, but there are also things that we didn't pass that we need to pass,” Cuomo said at the April news conference announcing the newly united Democratic conference that came just after a new state budget was agreed upon. “Child Victims Act, more gun safety, bail reform, the Dream Act, banning outside income, campaign finance reform, early voting - these are all progressive principles that were not passed in the budget and which we will not pass until we have a Democratic Senate.”

In response to an inquiry from Gotham Gazette two days before the primary, Cuomo’s campaign provided a list of the items that make up his third-term vision, including proposals he has supported but failed to pass for years, including from his first term, and initiatives already under way that he plans to build on.

They include voting reform (early voting, automatic voter registration and same-day voter registration); criminal justice reform (related to bail, discovery, speedy trials and asset forfeiture, closing Rikers Island, passing the Child Victims Act and legalizing the recreational use of marijuana); passing the DREAM Act; strengthening rent regulations; funding the MTA’s Fast Forward plan and passing congestion pricing; strengthening the Excelsior program to make college affordable; closing the per-pupil funding gap; ensuring access to quality, affordable healthcare; and ethics and campaign finance reform (closing the LLC loophole and banning outside income for legislators chief among them); gun control; and infrastructure.

“The Governor has led the way in making New York the progressive capital of the nation — from $15 minimum wage to paid family leave to marriage equality to first-in-the-nation Excelsior Scholarship to the toughest and strongest gun laws in the country,” said campaign spokesperson Abbey Collins, in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “While Washington tries to take us backward, the governor will continue to build on this unmatched record of accomplishment by winning a Democratic Senate Majority to pass ethics, voting, and criminal justice reform, make college affordable, invest $150 billion in our infrastructure, strengthen our gun laws, protect immigrant families and achieve universal healthcare for all New Yorkers.”

Gun control may be the one area where Cuomo has consistently led the way. After successfully passing the SAFE Act in his first term, Cuomo proposed a red flag bill earlier this year, also known as the Extreme Risk Protection Order bill, that would allow courts to order the temporary seizure of firearms from individuals and the homes of individuals deemed a risk to themselves or others. He has also pushed for a ten-day background check waiting period and raising the age for buying a gun to 21.

On some issues like recreational marijuana, Cuomo has been pulled to the left. Last year, Cuomo called marijuana a “gateway drug” but then, in January this year, he announced a task force to analyze the legalization of recreational use for adults. Though it came a few months before Nixon entered the race, some, including Nixon herself, have attributed the governor’s movement on the issue, which has since accelerated, to her primary challenge.  

“This is the classic tale of the third term,” said Douglas Muzzio, political science professor at Baruch College’s School of Public and International Affairs. “It’s the running for the third term playbook. After two terms, you’ve spent your energy and your thinking. You get most of the stuff done in your first term and then it tails off, and that was true of Governor [George] Pataki, it was true of the first Cuomo, it was true of Ed Koch [as mayor]. If you think of New York executives who have run for third terms, they haven’t been very successful third terms, and they’ve won them.”

Cuomo’s biggest bet, however, is infrastructure, with a promised $150 billion five-year plan set to begin in 2019, apparently subsuming and adding to an ongoing $100 billion investment in infrastructure around the state that Cuomo has repeatedly touted. “We’re going to show the nation how to build a state that is the epitome of the infrastructure and transportation of the next century,” Cuomo said at a news conference last week, announcing the construction of a new entrance to Penn Station.

“There are no new detailed policy ideas with some kind of numbers attached. And if there are discrete pieces, there’s no coherence to it, there’s no vision to hold it together,” Muzzio said.

The inevitable result, he said, is voter fatigue. “You’ve run through all your ideas in the first two terms, and then on top of that, you’ve made two terms worth of enemies and people who are dissatisfied,” he said. “So the number of dissatisfieds rises dramatically and there’s an urge to throw the bums out, whether they’re bums or not. And it becomes an ‘anybody but’ election.”

What remains to be seen, of course, is whether Cynthia Nixon has galvanized enough of that Cuomo fatigue, especially around the subways, and provided a vision to voters that will carry her to what would be one of the most shocking political upsets in history. Public polls, however questionable they may be, have shown a Cuomo blowout is likely on Thursday, though the governor has been at the center of several last-minute controversies and continues to spend millions to ensure victory.

The Penn Station announcement was one of several Cuomo has held in recent weeks, and some, including his primary and general election opponents, have criticized him for holding a long series of recent government events to bolster his reelection. Case in point, on Friday, the governor held a grandiose event featuring Hillary Clinton to open the new span of the Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge (called the Governor Malcolm Wilson Tappan Zee bridge before it was renamed this year) and just a day later, was forced to acknowledge that it would remain closed due to safety concerns arising from the old span. It opened late Tuesday night.

Asked if Cuomo has presented a third-term vision, Ted Hamm, associate professor and chair of journalism and new media studies at St. Joseph’s College, said, “I think the short answer is ‘no.’”

“I guess if you say that his infrastructure projects are his vision, then maybe you could make the case that he needs to see those through,” he added. “But given what happened with the Tappan Zee, who knows how he’ll politicize those projects. Also, he still hasn’t accomplished much with the subways as an essential infrastructure project...So if that’s his main vision, it’s got holes, particularly the subway.”

“The Governor has given New Yorkers nothing to vote for,” said Lauren Hitt, a Nixon campaign spokesperson, in an email. “His whole campaign strategy has been to get them to see him as anti-Trump, which is tough considering he won't return the $64,000 Trump gave to his campaign - and the many other similarities between them.”

Though Nixon is new to running for office, she has issued detailed policy platforms on a raft of issues to make up for what she lacks in government experience, though she has at times stumbled in discussing the specifics or outlining the details of her vision when asked. Nixon’s plans also pull mostly from existing proposals, both before the Legislature and put out by various advocacy groups, though together they present an unabashed progressive direction for the state that the candidate has herself aligned with democratic socialism.

“The Governor hasn't presented a plan to fix the subways, he refuses to hold hearings on sexual harassment, he won't support single payer, or promise to end cash bail. All these issues are so important to New Yorkers and progressives across the country, and he won't stand up for one of them,” Hitt added. (Cuomo has said he supports single-payer healthcare, also known as Medicare for All, but has insisted that it must be funded by the federal government rather than the state.)

“In terms of policy, there’s no comparison, at least from a progressive perspective,” Hamm said. “You can get into the questions of how do we pay for this type of stuff, but that’s pretty much the case of what you have to do when you’re a challenger against a long time incumbent. The corruption stuff only goes so far politically. But she’s put forth the agenda of the progressive wing, the Bernie Sanders wing of the party.”

Hamm noted, though that Nixon lacks the government experience that various editorial boards cited in endorsing Cuomo while acknowledging his failures. “Mr. Cuomo is flawed. When he allows petty enmity and political grievance to distract him from his commitment to public service, he is his own worst enemy. But when he confronts a real problem and gets down to work, he is a very capable governor,” the New York Times editorial board wrote. The board said Nixon’s “lack of experience in government or management of any sort do not inspire confidence that she could overcome the old guard in Albany to fulfill her promises and run the state.”

Muzzio echoed that view, expecting that Cuomo will get reelected and govern as he always has. “Very strategically, very Machiavellian in the best sense of the word,” he said. “There’s this clear-headedness of the Machiavellian leader. Even though he often times has a fatal flaw -- It’s ego and paranoia...He’s a tough force to work for and he’s a tough person to deal with.”

“His father once said, ‘You campaign in poetry and you govern in prose.’ And he is a master at his prose,” Muzzio said.

But there are early signs that New York may not become the progressive bastion people expect if -- and it’s a big if given Republicans’ abilities to win state Senate seats -- Democrats are no longer hamstrung in the Legislature. Cuomo himself tempered those expectations when he was interviewed by the New York Daily News editorial board, which endorsed him over Nixon. “It will still be hard,” he said. “Whoever is in the minority, it’s always easy to say ‘I’ll vote for that.’ But as we learned painfully, when the minority becomes the majority, they often change their tune.”

by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Ben Max and Victor Porcelli contributed to this article.

Cuomo Gives Limited Insight Into Third Term Agenda Wed, 12 Sep 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Statewide Candidates File Final Pre-Primary Campaign Finance Disclosures gov cuomo rail road longisland

(Photo: Mike Groll/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo)

The primary election is next Thursday, September 13, and candidates for statewide office filed another round of campaign spending and fundraising reports this week, the final disclosures due before primary day.

Governor Andrew Cuomo, a two-term Democrat, has been, for the most part, publicly nonchalant about his primary challenger, actor and activist Cynthia Nixon. But his campaign finance filings show he is spending far more to beat back her insurgent bid than he did four years ago, when he faced a primary challenge from Fordham Law professor Zephyr Teachout (who is running for attorney general this year).

Cuomo’s campaign spent $8.5 million and raised $184,000 between August 9 and August 31, the latest filing period. But the governor began the campaign with a massive war chest and still has $16 million left to spend, though only some of it is eligible for spending during the primary due to campaign finance rules. In total, this election cycle, he has raised $35.6 million and spent $25.6 million, far outraising and outspending any other candidate for any race, including Nixon.

The governor’s campaign transferred more than $2.5 million to the New York State Democratic Committee, of which Cuomo is the de facto head. The state committee has been spending large amounts of its funding to run ads in favor of the governor’s reelection, even as Cuomo’s own campaign spent nearly $3 million to buy ads in this latest period through Jersey City-based firm Media Fortitude Partners. The Cuomo campaign also doled out nearly $1.2 million to Bully Pulpit Interactive, a communications firm.

Just Wednesday morning, the state committee released its latest ad featuring Cuomo, Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, who is running for reelection, and New York City Public Advocate Letitia James, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for attorney general and is the state party’s official designee for the post. “They are our team to take on Trump and win,” the ad states, in line with the governor’s tactic of making the race about the Republican president rather than his upstart opponent.

“The Governor has proudly delivered unprecedented support to elect the entire Democratic ticket – proven leaders Cuomo, Hochul, and James – on Thursday, Sept. 13 because he believes this is the strongest possible team to fight back against Trump’s destructive agenda," said a Cuomo campaign spokesperson in an email. "The governor will continue to lead the way with his aggressive coordinated campaign as we work to take back the U.S. House , State Senate and build the Party’s infrastructure moving forward." The spokesperson also noted that the governor has made a six-figure ad buy targeting Republican gubernatorial nominee Marc Molinaro in order to get a leg up on the general election (Molinaro sought to have the ads pulled, accusing the Cuomo campaign of disinformation.)

Nixon’s numbers are paltry in comparison to Cuomo’s, though her campaign is banking its longshot on a very different type of strategy than the incumbent’s. Over the course of the race, she has raised a total of $2 million and spent about $1.3 million. She has not yet run any television ads, insisting that her campaign’s digital and social media operation is far more effective to reach the voters she is targeting. On Wednesday, her campaign released a new ad dinging Cuomo on his mishandling of the crisis affecting the city’s subway system. The campaign told Gotham Gazette it will be pushed out on social media including a Facebook ad buy.

Nixon also said in an NY1 interview on Monday that she does not plan on infusing her own personal funds into her campaign. She raised about $475,000 in this filing and spent just over $450,000. She had about $467,000 in cash on hand for the final two weeks of the campaign. Having rejected corporate and LLC donations, Nixon’s fundraising came mostly from small donors who gave less than $200, a fact her campaign has repeatedly touted while pointing out Cuomo’s propensity for raising money from wealthy donors and through the LLC loophole (which allows obscured donors to circumvent contribution limits).

“We are seeing an unprecedented level of grassroots momentum from New Yorkers,” said Nixon’s campaign manager, Hayley Prim, in a statement Wednesday. “There is a real hunger in New York to elect a real progressive who is beholden to the people, not corporations and millionaires. And since the debate, we’re seeing that momentum build like never before.”

Nixon’s campaign paid the Working Families Party $58,800 from her campaign coffers. The WFP has endorsed Nixon and has been mobilizing volunteers to canvas on her behalf. In fact, the in-kind contributions from the WFP to Nixon’s campaign -- in the form of phone banking, texting and canvassing efforts -- amounted to nearly $86,000, according to filings.

Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, a Democrat running for a second term, also faces a primary challenge, hers from New York City Council Member Jumaane Williams. Hochul’s filings show she raised $356,000 and spent more than $1.5 million in the latest disclosure period, leaving her with about $389,000 in cash on hand. Hochul also availed of the services of Media Fortitude Partners, using $1.4 million of that spending on television ads. So far, Hochul has raised a total of more than $2 million and spent about $1.9 million on her reelection.

Williams continues to struggle to raise funds for his campaign but has shown stiff competition to Hochul in a race that increasingly looks as if it could be close. Williams raised only $62,000 and spent about $38,000 in this latest filing, and filed just under $72,000 in cash on hand. In total, he has raised $270,000 -- he was forced to refund tens of thousands of dollars in over-the-limit contributions -- and spent $177,000. Williams said during a recent debate with Hochul, the only of the campaign, that he is still making payments to return the over-the-limit donations and pledged to be in full compliance by the end of the campaign.

There is no Republican primary in any of the statewide races. Candidates for governor and lieutenant governor run separately in a primary and on a joint ticket in the general election. The winners of the Democratic primary will face Republican gubernatorial nominee Marc Molinaro, the Dutchess county executive, and his running mate Julie Killian, a recent state Senate candidate.

Besides Letitia James and Zephyr Teachout, two other candidates -- Congressional Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney and Leecia Eve, a former Verizon executive who has been an aide to Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, and Cuomo -- are vying for the Democratic attorney general nomination. The winner will go on to face Republican Keith Wofford and others in the general. The four-way contest was triggered by the resignation of Eric Schneiderman after allegations reported in May by The New Yorker that he had physically abused several romantic partners. The race to replace him has turned into the most competitive on the statewide level, though James is backed by Cuomo and the state Democratic Party.

James raised $428,000 and spent $767,000 in the latest filing period, giving her just over $867,000 for the remainder of the race. She has raised more than $2 million over the course of the campaign and shelled out $1.1 million so far. Most of her latest expenditures went to the Hamilton Campaign Network, a consulting firm working for her campaign that has also been purchasing digital and television ads and sending out mailers to voters.

James’ campaign has been beset with criticism over her perceived lack of independence from the governor, and momentum has been building behind Teachout’s campaign, while Maloney remains a formidable opponent as a sitting member of Congress with significant funds. Teachout was endorsed last month by the New York Times editorial board and, just on Tuesday, by New York City First Lady Chirlane McCray, with the Daily News editorial board in between. Then, on Wednesday, New York City Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer rescinded his earlier endorsement of James and backed Teachout instead, telling the New York Daily News, “I believe that her independence from all of the power brokers, including the governor, is something that we should all want in an attorney general.” This echoed a somewhat similar recent decision made by Council Member Ritchie Torres, who changed his endorsement of James to a co-endorsement with Teachout, while also declaring he prefers Teachout and plans to vote for her.

Teachout raised about $545,000 and spent $617,000 between August 9 and 31, and she had a balance of just under $500,000 left. She has raised $1.46 million for her campaign so far, spending a total of $981,000, and is the only candidate in the race refusing donations from corporations and LLCs.

Maloney has been flush with cash since the start of the race, and has raised a total of $2 million while spending nearly $3 million. He raised almost $1.7 million in the latest filing period -- $1.4 million came in transfers from his congressional campaign account -- and spent $1.9 million at the same time, leaving him about $490,000. A significant amount of money went to media buys through Canal Partners Media, a firm based in Atlanta. Maloney is also up for reelection to his current seat and has said he will drop his name from the November congressional ballot if he wins the attorney general primary.

Eve has trailed the pack in fundraising and name recognition, though she was recently endorsed by the Albany Times Union and was even the New York Times’ second pick in the race behind Teachout. She raised $139,000 and spent $255,000 in the latest filing, and had less than $43,000 left to spend. In total, she has raised $382,000 and spent $351,000 since entering the race. She also loaned herself $100,000 in personal funds in this filing.

by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note - This article has been updated with comment from the Cuomo campaign.

Statewide Candidates File Final Pre-Primary Campaign Finance Disclosures Wed, 05 Sep 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Arguing Throughout, Cuomo and Nixon Debate Experience and Vision cuomo nixon close up

Cuomo and Nixon at the debate on CBS

Governor Andrew Cuomo, a two-term incumbent Democrat running for reelection, came face-to-face with his primary challenger, actor and education activist Cynthia Nixon, at the first and only scheduled debate of the race on Wednesday evening at Hofstra University on Long Island. The two Democrats exchanged acerbic attacks over the course of an hour, with no shortage of finger-wagging from the governor and eye-rolling from his insurgent opponent.

The debate, taking place just over two weeks from the September 13 vote, reflected much of the campaign rhetoric from recent weeks, with Nixon taking aim at what she sees as Cuomo’s lackluster commitment to progressive policies and the governor pivoting to paint himself as the incumbent with accomplishments who is also more qualified to take on President Donald Trump. The debate aired on CBS-2 and was moderated by anchor Maurice DuBois and  political reporter Marcia Kramer.

Nixon has sought to portray herself as an outsider to a broken culture and legislative process in Albany, depicting her lack of experience in government as an advantage, rather than a weakness. “Experience doesn’t mean that much if you’re not actually good at governing,” she said in an aside at Cuomo, while touting her background as a longtime advocate on issues that include education funding, LGBTQ, and women’s rights. Still, Nixon struggled to firmly answer the first question of the night from DuBois, which was, in part, to explain what has prepared her to be the chief executive of the state.

“The governor of New York is not a job about politics, it’s not about advocacy,” Cuomo said, while arguing that he is leading New York as the “first line of defense” against Trump. “It’s about doing, it’s about management.” Though many have speculated that Cuomo has been laying the foundation for a presidential bid himself, he also said for the record that he would serve as governor for the full four-year term if reelected. “The only caveat is if God strikes me dead,” he joked.

Nixon attempted, as she has on the campaign trail, to tie Cuomo’s record, and his apparent failures, to his wealthy donors. “When it comes to opposing Donald Trump in New York State, we already have a corrupt corporate Republican in the White House, we don’t need a corrupt, corporate Democrat in Albany as his main opposition,” she said, excoriating Cuomo for failing to give driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants, refusing to push for a single-payer healthcare system, and failing to pass the Reproductive Health Act, the Climate and Community Protection Act, and the Liberty Act.

For his part, Cuomo repeatedly accused Nixon of making misleading claims, while calling her a “corporate donor” herself, an apparent reference to her setting up an S-corporation to file her taxes. “My opponent lives in the world of fiction. I live in the world of fact,” he said. While Nixon has indeed established an S-corporation, as she explained a common tactic for actors, she does not appear to have used it for political donations, instead making those personally, including to Mayor Bill de Blasio, whom Nixon supported vigorously in his initial 2013 mayoral run.

At several moments in the debate, especially in the early going, Nixon interjected as Cuomo spoke, sparking one particularly heated exchange. “Can you stop interrupting?” Cuomo said.

“Can you stop lying?” Nixon retorted.

“As soon as you do,” the governor replied.

There were sharp disagreements between the two on funding the MTA to repair the broken subway system, on implementing single-payer healthcare, and on allowing public sector union workers to strike.

Pushed on improving the city’s subways and whether he would consider delaying or cancelling an upcoming fare hike, Cuomo sought to displace the blame for the system’s troubles, saying as he has in the past that the city bears more responsibility than the state, despite the fact that the governor appoints a plurality of the MTA board and its top leadership. “I would support cancelling the fare hike because the service is not what people deserve. It has to be a joint funding responsibility between the city and the state,” he said, suggesting a 50-50 split on both covering a hypothetical cancellation of the long-planned fare hike and whatever portion of the $33 billion funding needs for the system that won’t be covered by tolls and fares.

Nixon said a fare hike would be “unconscionable” and said she would, as governor, have the state assume the estimated $325 million cost for it. “[The MTA] is a state agency and to pretend anything else is completely disingenuous,” she said of the authority, noting Cuomo’s penchant for diverting MTA funds for unrelated or unnecessary costs in the past. “[Cuomo] used the MTA like an ATM and we see the result,” she quipped.

Nixon also said the state, and the Democratic Party, should embrace a proposed single-payer health care proposal laid out by Democrats in the state Legislature and evaluated in the Rand Corporation study released a month ago. The plan could cost roughly $200 billion to implement in the short-term but would likely lead to long-term savings for both the state and taxpayers. “This is the kind of change that New Yorkers really care about, this is the kind of change that our Democratic Party should be embracing in order to address the incredible inequality here,” she said. “Healthcare is a human right.”

Though Cuomo agreed on that last point, he said single-payer ought to be implemented by the federal government rather than funded by the state budget, which is already roughly $170 billion. He said long-term it might save money but that it would be very expensive in the initial years.

Even in other areas, when they seemed to agree, Nixon took every opportunity to critique the governor’s seven-and-a-half years in office. On campaign finance reform, for instance, Cuomo reiterated his calls for ending the LLC loophole, banning outside income for legislators, and greater financial disclosure by lawmakers. He said those changes, which he has supported for years, could only happen with a Democratic majority in both houses of the state Legislature. As he has before, he also offered them as answers to corruption scandals that have hit his administration, without naming policies more closely in line with his economic development programs that were abused.

Nixon has advocated for similar reforms -- but has also refused corporate and LLC donations to her campaign -- and insisted that Cuomo is a flawed messenger having raised millions from LLCs for his own campaigns and for tolerating and empowering the Independent Democratic Conference, which shared power with Senate Republicans for seven years before disbanding in April. “To say he is disincentivized to close [the LLC] loophole would not begin to describe it strongly enough,” she said, also criticizing Cuomo’s 2014 closure of the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption, which he set up the previous year, as it looked at his donors and allies.

The two repeatedly bickered back and forth. Cuomo accused Nixon of being less than transparent herself, bringing up her failure to release her tax returns from the past several years until last Friday, when reporters were given three hours to peruse them in person. In response, Nixon noted that Cuomo did not release his own tax returns when he first ran for governor until after he was elected.

Responding to a moderator’s question, Nixon touted her support for the right of public union workers to strike. “We need to return to public sector workers every tool in the tool kit,” she said. Cuomo called it a “terrible idea” that could paralyze vital public systems such as schools, transit, and sanitation, and even cited de Blasio’s opposition to the idea.

Cuomo and Nixon did converge on the legalization of recreational marijuana, though Nixon views it as a racial and economic justice issue while Cuomo, until last year, called it a “gateway drug” and only recently changed his position -- something Nixon takes credit for, a theory Cuomo dismissed when she offered it again at the debate. He created a state taskforce in January to explore the issue, and it recommended a regulated, legalization program last month.

Perhaps the most alignment between the two candidates occurred when they were asked if either wanted de Blasio’s endorsement. Neither said they would accept or refuse it.

Cuomo, who has famously feuded with the mayor for years, said, in what could easily be taken for sarcasm, “I love Mayor de Blasio, I’m sure he loves me in a strange sort of way. After 30 years, we have a dysfunctional relationship. He makes his own political decisions, not me.”

Nixon, an ally of the two-term mayor who even sat on stage at both his inaugurations, said, “This is a race that I am running on my own. This does not have to do with any particular endorsement that I’ve gotten or haven’t gotten. But this has to do with the vision I’m enumerating for New York State, a vision of New York as a real progressive beacon, not just as a rhetorical progressive state the way we have now.”

Was that a yes or a no?

“It’s neither,” she said.

The debate didn’t end with hostilities, however. Cuomo, who refused to even look his last primary opponent in the eye in public, walked over to Nixon who was still seated and the two shook hands, smiling.

by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette

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Arguing Throughout, Cuomo and Nixon Debate Experience and Vision Wed, 29 Aug 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Nixon Says 'Narrow Path' to Victory Paved with Newly-Registered Progressives Polls ‘Not Capturing’ cn progressives

(photo: @CynthiaNixon)

As she attempts an insurgent challenge against a two-term Democratic governor with broad establishment support and deep campaign coffers, actor and activist Cynthia Nixon believes her path to victory, admittedly a “narrow” one, lies among new voters, the mostly progressive and informed New Yorkers who have registered with the Democratic Party in the last four years. The new pool of voters is massive, numbering in the hundreds of thousands, but the question is how many will come out to vote on September 13, a Thursday, and for Nixon at that.

“If you look at four years ago when Zephyr Teachout ran [in the Democratic primary for governor], she got 34 percent of the vote, despite the fact that a lot of people had never heard of her, a lot of people didn’t even know she was running, she couldn’t get on TV until the last two weeks,” Nixon said at a gubernatorial forum in Sunset Park last week, which her opponent, Governor Andrew Cuomo, declined to attend.

In certain ways, Nixon could’ve been talking about her own swing-for-the-fences run that parallels Teachout’s 2014 challenge to Cuomo. Both candidates ran with no prior government experience and from the governor’s left, pushing him to adopt more progressive positions. (Teachout was Nixon’s campaign treasurer earlier this year until she launched her own campaign for the Democratic nomination for attorney general. They have endorsed each other.)

[Read: At Brooklyn Forum, Nixon Pitches Policy, Criticizes Cuomo and Distances from De Blasio]

“The people who turn out in a Democratic primary in an off-presidential year are the most informed and the most left-leaning voters,” Nixon continued at the forum. “To be informed about Andrew Cuomo, I believe, is to want to change.”

New York is indeed a low turnout state, if not a low registration one, and in local and state elections participation is often anaemic. Only 574,350 Democratic voters cast a ballot in the 2014 primary for governor -- 192,210 for Teachout and 361,380 for Cuomo, and the rest for Randy Credico, a radio host, comedian, and perennial protest candidate -- even though, prior to the primary, there were 5,873,844 registered Democrats statewide (as of April 1, 2014). By the November general election, in fact, there were 34,585 fewer registered Democrats but Cuomo and his running mate, now-Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, would go on to win by more than 2 million votes.

Two years later, the presidential primary election between former former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders shook the Democratic base and also motivated independent voters to turnout -- though many were disappointed when they showed up to the polls and ran up against New York’s closed primary system which only allows a party’s registered voters to cast a ballot or were stymied by New York’s rules around changing party registration a year in advance of a primary.

As of April 1, 2016, barely three weeks before the Democratic presidential primary, there were 5,792,497 registered Democrats across the state, lower than in previous years. By November 1, that number jumped to 6,179,734, an increase of 387,237 Democratic voters in just seven months. By April of this year, the number of registered Democrats has increased again, to 6,201,033, of which 3,401,637 are in New York City alone (NY1’s Zack Fink first crunched some of these numbers).

Between April 2016 and April 2018, 330,478 new Democrats registered in the city. Some portion of them, it is believed, changed party registration from unaffiliated in an attempt to vote in the presidential primary, but did so too late for that election.

It’s on those new Democratic voters -- more than 408,000 of them since the last gubernatorial race -- that Nixon is pinning her hopes of victory. “I think what the polls are really not capturing is that, both inspired by Bernie Sanders and horrified by Donald Trump,” hundreds of thousands of Democrats have registered to vote in New York in the last two years, Nixon said. “And I would argue that the vast majority of those are progressive voters.”

But according to an actual pollster, public polling doesn’t back Nixon’s claim, though the election will likely depend on turnout, which is tough to predict, said Siena College’s Steven Greenberg in a phone interview. In a July 31 Siena College poll, the latest in the governor’s race, Cuomo received 60 percent of the vote from likely Democratic primary voters, compared to Nixon’s 29 percent, with the rest undecided.

“I don’t believe it’s true,” that polls aren’t capturing progressive voters, Greenberg said. He noted that eight out of nine registered Democrats didn’t vote in the 2014 Democratic gubernatorial primary, though he assumed turnout may be higher this year.

“We certainly talk to new voters,” he added, insisting that Siena had polled Democratic voters who had registered as recently as June. The polling methodology also accounts for voting history to determine who will be a likely primary voter, he said. “We think we’re talking to those new voters in an appropriate way.”

Though Nixon believes the progressive groundswell in the wake of Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign will continue to show in this year’s election, Greenberg said that notion doesn’t match up with the past. “We have seen historically that a lot of new voters register to vote in the presidential primary but don’t continue to vote after that,” he said.

And perhaps most daunting for Nixon, Greenberg pointed out, was the fact that voters who identified as liberals in Siena’s July poll overwhelmingly chose Cuomo, who beat Nixon 57-35 in that category (Nixon’s campaign has said that far left voters now identify as “progressive,” which was not an option in the poll, not liberal). Even among younger voters, below the age of 35, Cuomo won by double digits. “Andrew Cuomo has a problem with liberal and progressive leadership,” Greenberg said. “He doesn’t have a problem with rank and file liberals and progressives. They like him and they support him.”

The Cuomo campaign did not provide comment for this article.

“Nixon can make an argument, and it’s a legitimate argument, that Cuomo’s been dragged kicking and screaming to take liberal positions,” he continued. “But the voters don’t know that.”

by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette

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Nixon Says 'Narrow Path' to Victory Paved with Newly-Registered Progressives Polls ‘Not Capturing’ Tue, 28 Aug 2018 04:00:00 +0000
How Ronald Reagan’s 1966 Run for Governor Prefaced Cynthia Nixon’s Today Ronald Reagan Cynthia Nixon

Ronald Reagan and Cynthia Nixon

In the summer of 1966, on the other side of the country from where Cynthia Nixon is now battling it out to become the Governor of New York, and on the opposite end of the political spectrum to Nixon’s position as a far-left Democrat, another actor-come-political-activist, Ronald Reagan, arguably wrote the script for a relative newcomer to unseat a long-standing incumbent in a governor’s race.

Reagan, who died in 2004 at age 93, went on to become the 40th President of the United States from 1981 to 1989, after serving as Governor of California from 1967 until 1975. His introduction to public office came after an at-the-time revolutionary campaign against two-term Democratic incumbent Governor Pat Brown. Similar to how Nixon’s campaign aims to harness the power of a grassroots, volunteer-driven effort, Reagan’s, too, called upon an army of volunteers and depended upon the public perception of the candidate as an “outsider” and “citizen politician” to eventually secure the win.

“There was a longer tradition of entertainment inclusion in Californian politics than there is New York,” political analyst Bruce Gyory, a professor of political science at the University of Albany, told Gotham Gazette in discussing whether Reagan’s gubernatorial victory says anything about Nixon’s chances this year. New York doesn’t have that tradition, Gyory continued, but he said there’s a history of electing relative newcomers, such as in the 1982 gubernatorial election wherein Ed Koch, who’d been mayor of New York City for five years, lost the Democratic primary to Mario Cuomo (the father of the state’s current governor, Andrew Cuomo, who Nixon’s trying to unseat in the primary).

Gyory also noted that the trend of personality politics that saw Donald Trump, a businessman with no prior political experience, elected in the 2016 presidential race could work to Nixon’s advantage, while others have called Trump’s election, and low standing among Democrats, a disadvantage to Nixon as she seeks to downplay any comparisons.

And though Trump’s winning, celebrity-driven campaign is repeatedly a reference point for those analyzing Nixon’s candidacy, despite her many years of policy advocacy in New York, the case of Reagan may be a better historical precedent to consider. (It’s worth noting, of course, that Reagan defeated the father of the current California governor, Jerry Brown, as Nixon attempts to unseat New York’s second generation Governor Cuomo in part by further inflaming an anti-establishment fever.)

Reagan, like Nixon, had enjoyed some success as an actor in Hollywood before entering politics. He appeared in films such as the 1937 movie Love Is on the Air and 1942's Kings Row. More than this, he was known for his work as the president of the Screen Actors Guild between 1947 and 1952, and then again in the first half of 1960 when he was successful in organizing an industry-wide strike to convince production houses to grant compensation to actors when their scenes were re-aired or reproduced by new media (something still in place today, called residuals). He was also known for his work between 1954 and 1962 as the host of national television show General Electric Theater.

His run for governor came two years after his first major foray into the political scene. Having identified as a Democrat throughout his youth and during his first tenure as president of the Screen Actors Guild, Reagan switched parties in 1962 and publicly repositioned himself as the voice of Republican conservatism in 1964 with a televised speech for presidential candidate Barry Goldwater. During the 30-minute address, Reagan spoke about minimizing the role of government and affording freedom to Americans. He spoke about the need for welfare reform and to reduce taxes, as well as the threat of communism to the world.

"A government can't control the economy without controlling people. And...when a government sets out to do that, it must use force and coercion to achieve its purpose,” Reagan said during that address, just a few years before he would become governor. “So we have come to a time for choosing...You and I are told we must choose between a left or right, but I suggest there is no such thing as a left or right. There is only an up or down. Up to man's age-old dream — the maximum of individual freedom consistent with order — or down to the ant heap of totalitarianism.”

Reagan’s speech raised $1 million for Goldwater’s campaign and, though the Republican candidate lost the general election to Democrat Lyndon Johnson by the largest margin at that point in history (38.5 percent to 61.1 percent), Reagan’s performance stuck with the American people. It laid the foundation for ‘Reagan the politician’ in the eyes of the public, and made it that much easier, two years on, for Reagan to enter the California gubernatorial race as an apparent underdog.

“When Reagan started campaigning, there were few people who actually took him seriously aside form Californian voters,” Jaime Regalado, professor of political Science at California State University, told Gotham Gazette in May. “Reagan was dismissed by the party establishment among Democrats and even many Republican strategists felt that he wasn’t the ideal candidate. That changed quickly.”

Unlike what Nixon is attempting in taking on a sitting governor of her own party, Reagan was a Republican who succeeded in unseating a two-term Democratic incumbent. However, Nixon, in saying that Cuomo has “governed like a Republican,” has almost painted herself and Cuomo as from two different parties.

Reagan was up against former San Francisco Mayor George Christopher in the 1966 Republican primary election, which he won with almost 65 percent of the vote, and went on to defeat Brown in the November general election with 58 percent. “Brown underestimated Reagan and it was easy to do considering he was a celebrity candidate who had no experience in elected office,” Regalado said.

Andrew Cuomo initially attempted to dismiss Nixon’s candidacy when she first announced her plans to run for governor in March of this year, but he has shown in the subsequent months that he is concerned enough about her challenge to raise and spend well more than $8 million this year as of a month before the September 13 primary, not to mention several policy and other moves apparently aimed at neutralizing Nixon’s appeal.

“We’re in a democracy, anybody can run, anybody can say whatever they want to say,” Cuomo said during a March 21 news conference in Manhattan, when asked about the Sex and the City star’s candidacy. “This is the political silly season at an especially bizarre time in politics. But we have some real work to do.”

In one quip, Cuomo criticized both Nixon’s success as an actor and questioned her ability to do the job of governor: “Normally name recognition is relevant when it has some connection to the endeavor,” he said during a conference call with reporters. “If it’s just about name recognition, then I’m hoping Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, and Billy Joel don’t get into the race.”

Over the course of the campaign that has unfolded, Cuomo has in some ways shown he is taking the Nixon challenge seriously, while his surrogates have repeatedly used her acting career as a point of attack, with campaign spokespeople regularly saying that she is only able to read a script.

According to Reagan biographer and presidential historian Craig Shirley, who is based in New York, the tendency for incumbent politicians to underestimate candidates such as Reagan and Nixon can very easily backfire. “That could be Nixon’s greatest asset; there’s nothing better in politics than to be underestimated,” Shirley said. Since Cuomo’s early remarks and Shirley’s assessment, one seismic event occurred, even if polls have shown Cuomo with very comfortable margins: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez roundly defeated ten-term incumbent Rep. Joe Crowley in June’s congressional primary, sending shockwaves through New York and national politics. Cuomo said that outcome means nothing for his race, but reason dictates every incumbent is at least a little more uneasy since June 26.

Other Democrats, including some loyal to Cuomo such as former New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, were also quick to denounce Nixon’s gubernatorial bid. “She isn’t qualified to be the governor,” Quinn told the New York Post following Nixon’s announcement, and referred to Nixon as an “unqualified lesbian” in recalling that Nixon had not supported Quinn, a “qualified lesbian,” for mayor in 2013, when Nixon strongly backed eventual winner Bill de Blasio.

Yet Nixon quickly turned “unqualified lesbian” into a rallying cry for her campaign, a move indicative of her strategy to use her lack of government experience -- framed as “outsider” status -- in the only way she can: to position herself as someone attractive to voters who want change; as a candidate unencumbered by the traditional trappings of politics and free to take on the establishment; and someone who also understands the problems of everyday New Yorkers.

“Cuomo has been in office eight years, hardly anything has changed," she told the Associated Press in March. “If we want change, people like me, who have never run for office before, have to get involved.”

More than 50 years ago, in 1966, almost those exact words were spoken Reagan, as he first campaigned to become governor of California.

"It's true I've never held public office," Reagan told TIME for a October 1966 cover story. "But if we're going to base the election off that, consider that Brown's been in office eight years and he hasn't done much about our problems!”

Positioning himself as a “citizen politician,” Reagan blamed Brown for many of the state’s issues, including the uprising of protesting students at Berkeley University -- a part of the Free Speech Movement and largely in opposition to the Vietnam War -- as well as the racially-charged Watts Riots in the summer of 1965 in Los Angeles that started amid rumors police had roughed up two African-American men and a pregnant woman during a traffic stop.

He leveraged the fear of Californians to position himself as a ‘law and order’ politician, telling the students of Berkeley, “Obey the rules or get out." According to reports at the time, many voters in the lower middle class, who were members of unions and typically Democratic voters, switched their allegiance in response to the seemingly extremist socialism flourishing across the state. Reagan won after painting Brown, and the entire state’s political system, as inadequate in delivering fairness and order to ‘everyday people.’

“His celebrity put him in touch with Californians unlike perhaps any other candidate and he also listened to what people had to say,” Regalado said. “It was part of his strategy to be in touch with common Californians. He was a citizen-politician unencumbered by the restraints of having been in office too long. It was the perfect message. “

When asked if he believes this message is applicable to Nixon’s case, and if it could be employed to achieve success in the New York gubernatorial primaries, Regalado said: “I do, I do.”

Nixon is indeed making similar thematic points in New York, as Reagan once did in California. And though she is positioning herself as a liberal criminal justice reformer, not a law and order candidate, she is likely hoping for a backlash (albeit in the other direction) comparable to what Reagan inspired in 1966. She has aligned herself with communities and advocacy groups that feel left behind by Cuomo, whom they attack for being a centrist and empowering Republicans. Nixon and her supporters argue the governor has sidelined many progressive goals in order to triangulate, retain the moderate fiscal policies he favors, support charter schools, and cater to real estate interests.

During a campaign conference call with supporters several months ago, Nixon criticized Cuomo for “paying lip service” to condemning Trump and creating a sanctuary state, without actually doing anything to deliver change. Referencing criminal justice reform and protecting undocumented immigrants with access to driver’s licenses, Nixon asked simply: Why hasn’t he done it?

Nixon has been endorsed by the Working Families Party (WFP) - a progressive political party that backed Cuomo in his previous two gubernatorial victories but parted ways with him over what party members deemed a failure to deliver on a truly progressive agenda.

“If I was giving advice to Cynthia Nixon it would be that when you have the spotlight on you - and she will - you have to do something with it,” Shirley said earlier this year, in what is now a prelude to the lone Nixon-Cuomo debate, scheduled for Wednesday night on CBS-2 television. “Reagan gave a highly successful speech in 1964 on behalf of the Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater and emerged as the national conservative leader after Goldwater lost the election. After that, he was no longer Ronald Reagan the actor, he was Ronald Reagan the conservative.”

While the debate will not offer Nixon that kind of spotlight, it will provide her with a significant opportunity she has not had to date.

Earlier in the campaign season, Regalado agreed that, like Reagan had to in the late ‘60s, Nixon needs to show she has the “substance” it takes to be governor, and that it’s important she talks policy, programs, and what she will do for voters. “She needs to get out her agenda and highlight her experience working with different communities,” he said. “She needs to outline five points, or three points, that will appeal to a broad voter base. This is important for the visualization of electorate voters.”

Since the launch of her campaign, Nixon has announced a mix of policy positions including "fully funded schools"; campaign finance reform; criminal justice reform; and single-payer healthcare. She’s tapping into the anger and fear of many New Yorkers in campaigning on a platform that includes strengthening rent regulations and fixing the subway. She has also pushed for marijuana legalization, one of several moves she has made that have appeared to elicit action from Cuomo, who has recently moved the state toward legalization.

Nixon has also promised to invest more money to improve living conditions at public housing and to pass the New York Dream Act, which would allow undocumented college students access to state financial aid. Another pillar of her campaign is the issue she spent nearly two decades doing unpaid advocacy work on: education funding, with a focus on more resources for the neediest school districts across the state.

“The question is, will she avoid, not only verbal gaffes, but policy gaffes,” Regalado added, referencing Nixon’s misstep when she said communities of color should be home to legalized marijuana distribution opportunities as a form of “reparations,” a comment she sought to clarify and apologize for in subsequent days. “There is a lot to learn for a new candidate who is running for office,” Regalado said.

Nixon’s ‘newness’ holds a benefit, however, that proved in Reagan’s case to overshadow any mistakes he might have made in discussing policy: He could present himself as a ‘clean’ alternative - gaffes or not -- to the career politician and regularly highlighted his position as untouched by corruption.

“Being an outsider, and not being part of the established elite, can be a real asset,” Shirley said. “Reagan made it clear to them; ‘I’m not part of the corruption of Sacramento, that’s Pat Brown’s doing, I’m just offering myself to go in there and clean it up.’”

According to reports at the time, property taxes had doubled under Brown’s leadership and the Californian people believed their money was being used to grease the hands of the political elite. Reagan was critical of the state’s budget problems and, as Brown told The Harvard Crimson in April of 1967: “I erroneously thought that people were proud of the things we had done. All they were really concerned with was taxes.” Brown continued that Reagan rarely offered any constructive solutions to the state’s budget problems but, because the newcomer fuelled the public’s fear of corruption, it meant any blunders he might have made didn’t matter so much when it came to voters making decisions at the polls.

Some of that spirit of 1966 may apply today, though the fact that Nixon is challenging Cuomo in a party primary where turnout will be low may drastically diminish her chances. From the earliest days of her campaign, Nixon has called Cuomo corrupt, saying he caters to his donors, and blaming him for rampant corruption in state government, which he had vowed to clean up when he was first elected in 2010. She promised to on day one to appoint a commission to investigate corruption in state government if she’s elected governor, and has repeatedly noted that a 2013 commission launched by Cuomo was shut down when “it got too close to him” and his donors.

One of the cornerstones of Nixon’s campaign is her refusal to take contributions from corporations and limited liability companies, or LLCs. Both have been the source of major donations to Cuomo, who has failed to close the notorious “LLC loophole,” which effectively negates the state’s already high contribution limits.

“Under Andrew Cuomo, public corruption in our state capital has become a national embarrassment, and robbed New Yorkers of the honest, trustworthy government they deserve,” Nixon said in a statement. Nixon and her supporters regularly reference the recent federal corruption conviction on multiple counts of Joseph Percoco, a former top government aide, campaign manager, and friend to Cuomo. Still, it is unclear how much that and other corruption is resonating with voters, especially Democratic primary voters. Cuomo has had commanding leads in the polls, though Nixon has questioned whether they are capturing the progressive, anti-establishment, and new-voter energy that she believes is rampant.

Nixon’s campaign strategy, like Reagan’s in 1966, is largely a grassroots effort. With the WFP, Nixon is working with a growing network of volunteers across the state. She has raised a very small fraction of the nearly $40 million Cuomo has brought in. Reagan -- in a strategy unheard of at the time in the way it utilized media, volunteers, advertisers and behavioral scientists -- leveraged his skill as a public speaker to generate volunteer support and activate voters.

But Regalado believes Nixon will have to lock down a larger, weightier support base, and can’t solely rely on grassroots efforts to win. “Cynthia is going to have to find her base within the party -- not just from the LGBTIQ groups and the Working Families Party.” He said labor unions would be key, but Nixon has not won support from unions.

At this point, it is unlikely any major labor unions will get behind Nixon in the Democratic primary, but she has shown a focus on trying to break into Cuomo’s hold on New York City Democrats, especially people of color. Polls have shown that these efforts have not been successful, but Nixon has appeared undeterred, acknowledging a “narrow path” to victory, but a path nonetheless.

Gyory agrees there are “superficial similarities” between Nixon’s and Reagan’s campaigns, but points out by the time he ran for governor, Reagan “had become the leading national spokesperson and the voice of a rising conservative movement.” Though she has received significant national media attention, Nixon has not risen to the level of becoming a symbol of a movement. While Nixon’s campaign is getting national attention, she is still aiming to unseat one of her own party’s sitting governors, and though many in the progressive movement are embracing her candidacy, it has been part of Democratic infighting, not a unifying force to unseat a member of Trump’s party.

For some voters, Nixon will have to overcome skepticism about whether she is ready to govern the state. “Democrats almost universally counter-positioned themselves to Trump’s lack of knowledge,” Gyory said. “[Nixon] will have to confront this and handle the articulation of issues well.”

Regalado says Nixon can learn from Reagan in the way he used perfect timing and a recognizable voice to endear himself to voters and gain the admiration of his party. It’s a method that’s been followed by other actors, too. Arnold Schwarzenegger, for example, was Governor of California between 2003 and 2011, and encouraged followers to call him “Governator,” in reference to The Terminator movies he starred in, and used one-liners from his movies, such as “hasta la vista” and "I'll be back,” to punctuate his press conferences and meetings.

“Reagan used humor,” Regalado said. “He was not only a great script reader, he was a practiced actor, and that on the campaign trail can be very, very powerful. He was self-deprecating, and I think Cynthia’s kind of doing that herself. She uses humor from what I can see. She’s a good speaker. She’s engaging and she has a comfortable message. All of that is very Reagan-esque.”

Asked whether Nixon or her campaign has studied Reagan’s, a campaign spokesperson put Nixon’s acting career into context. "She started acting when she was 12 because she couldn't afford college otherwise,” wrote Lauren Hitt. “Cynthia was raised by a single mom in a four floor walk up. The Governor likes to mock Cynthia's career and to say it proves she's out of touch. But in reality, while Governor Cuomo was given a huge leg up into politics by his father, Cynthia had to earn every single professional success she's had. Succeeding in such a brutal, tough industry is no small feat, and it shows just how tough, and smart Cynthia is. Cynthia has also used her acting platform for the last twenty years to give back. She's fought tirelessly to close the funding gap between low-income and high income school districts, she organized against anti-marriage equality senators, and fought in support of women's reproductive rights."

Shirley uses Reagan’s own words to illustrate Nixon’s threat, and as a reminder not to underestimate an actor-turned-candidate.

“Reagan once said, ‘I don’t know how you can do this job and not be an actor’,” Shirley said. “And I think there’s great wisdom in that. When you’re on stage, do something with it. The better leaders understand they are also performers."

by Caitlin Bishop, Gotham Gazette
@caitybishop  @GothamGazette

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How Ronald Reagan’s 1966 Run for Governor Prefaced Cynthia Nixon’s Today Mon, 27 Aug 2018 04:00:00 +0000