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You’d think Cynthia Nixon’s announcement that she intends to challenge Gov. Andrew Cuomo in the Democratic primary would have been greeted in Albany with a shrug. After all, the two-term governor has decades of political experience, the power of incumbency, and a $30 million war chest. Nixon has never held public office, and few people are even aware that she has an abiding interest in public policy, or that she has been a strong advocate for public education for years. If people know her at all, it’s probably because she played Miranda on “Sex in the City.”
A Siena poll, taken shortly before Nixon formally announced her candidacy, showed Gov. Cuomo with a 37% lead over his opponent. With all his advantages, it would seem that the governor could afford to be gracious toward his opponent. Moreover, as a prospective presidential candidate in 2020, he could use the primary to road-test his particular brand of Democratic politics. But “gracious” is not how the Cuomo machine rolls. Months before candidates can even begin to collect petition signatures to earn a place on the September primary ballot, the Democratic establishment has gone into overdrive to bury Nixon. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney called her primary challenge “a wasteful, negative, time-consuming exercise.” I’m confused, Rep. Maloney. Is a primary “wasteful” because Ms. Nixon doesn’t merit one? Or is it because Democratic voters don’t deserve one? Please clarify.
Not to be outdone, Christine Quinn, the Cuomo-appointed vice chair of the state Democratic Party, slammed Nixon as an “unqualified lesbian.” Quinn later tried to dismiss the remark as a misfired joke, but it’s hard to imagine a political context in which the phrase “unqualified lesbian” could ever work as a punchline.
And closer to home, the Sullivan County Democratic Party chair, Donna Schick, has already begun slamming Nixon on Facebook, calling her a “pawn in somebody’s game” who “knows nothing” about our county. Then, in a move that would have made Vladimir Putin proud, Schick deleted all the comments that didn’t support her line of attack, while leaving comments from the amen corner posted on the thread.
There’s little reason to doubt that Gov. Cuomo will beat Nixon in the primary, and he’s heavily favored to defeat any Republican challenger in November, so what explains this heavy-handed response to the Nixon candidacy? It doesn’t have much to do with electoral odds; it’s really all about issues—issues Nixon intends to raise and that Cuomo very much wants to avoid. Including:
What can be done about the pervasive corruption in Albany? This is a particularly painful topic for the governor because the man who managed his last campaign, convicted on multiple bribery charges, will probably be sitting in jail on Election Day.
And what responsibility does the governor have to fix New York City’s failing subway system? (The state, not the city, manages the Metropolitan Transit Authority.)
Then there’s Nixon’s signature issue, education—and the question of whether or not Cuomo is violating a court order by withholding over $4 billion from our schools.
Whether they live upstate or downstate, New Yorkers are entitled to a debate on these issues. And, at a time when democratic institutions are under attack all across the country, self-styled progressives would be wise to demonstrate greater tolerance for civil discourse. Goliath will have time enough to slay David.
[Bruce Ferguson, chair of the Town of Callicoon Democratic Committee, is a resident of Callicoon Center.]