Gov. Andrew Cuomo responded to actress Cynthia Nixon’s potential primary challenge with a cackle and a dismissive remark about her prospective campaign being orchestrated by his rival, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. However, his subsequent actions suggest that the governor is worried enough to court progressive factions that have been skeptical of him in the past. Coincidentally or not, Cuomo’s public appearances this week highlighted his progressive accomplishments and goals, from the women’s agenda to voting reform to LGBT issues to the environment.
Nixon has burnished her liberal credentials in New York with activism, primarily on education issues, and she has been critical of Cuomo in the past. Nixon would presumably challenge Cuomo from the left, representing the frustration of voters who believe the governor persistently mistreats New York City out of rivalry de Blasio, is tainted by the corruption trial of his close associate Joe Percoco, and is an impediment to Democratic efforts to retake the state Senate and reduce economic inequality.
On Tuesday, NY1 broke the news that Nixon was consulting with former de Blasio staffers Bill Hyers and Rebecca Katz. The New York Times later reported that Nixon had traveled around the state and was studying up on important issues to New Yorkers, such as New York City’s beleaguered transportation system.
On Wednesday morning, the New York State Democratic Committee sent a press release announcing the launch of a campaign “in support of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s 2018 women’s agenda.” Cuomo had made his “women’s agenda” a key part of his State of the State and budget addresses. The press release from the Democratic Committee included a laudatory quote from WIN CEO Christine Quinn, the former New York City Council speaker and candidate in the 2013 mayoral primary in which Nixon campaigned for de Blasio. Quinn also released a statement in support of Cuomo later on Wednesday, saying “the idea of anyone questioning his progressive credentials is ludicrous.”
Cuomo also personally addressed the issue during a conference call with reporters on Wednesday. He joked that the mayor was putting Nixon up to considering a gubernatorial race, saying “it was probably either the mayor of New York City or Vladimir Putin.” He later dismissed Nixon’s celebrity as a factor, saying that “if it’s just about name recognition, I’m hoping that Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie and Billy Joel don’t get into the race.”
De Blasio said in a press conference on Wednesday that he had not pushed Nixon to run, but said that he was not surprised that Cuomo might face a primary. “I obviously have real political differences with the governor and I'm very uncomfortable with how he's handled the Republican state Senate and the IDC, for example,” he said, referring to the Independence Democratic Conference, which caucuses with Republicans. Many liberal activists and Albany insiders believe that the IDC would not have defected if Cuomo had put any muscle at all into discouraging or punishing them. The mayor added that “it’s time for Democrats to be Democrats.”
Later that day, Cuomo directly hit back at de Blasio, saying that the two view progressive politics differently. “I don't think progressive politics is a function of rhetoric and words. I think it is a function of results,” Cuomo said.
The governor also emphasized his commitment to gun control on Wednesday, writing an open letter to president Trump urging him to support gun control measures. He also touted the SAFE Act, which passed in 2013 and enacted tougher gun regulations.
Cuomo continued to deploy progressive rhetoric and words on Thursday, holding a conference call with Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar to discuss voting reform legislation on the state and federal level which would make political advertising more transparent.
Cuomo allies also came out in full force in support of the governor on Thursday. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, the first openly gay congressman from New York, released a statement in support of the governor and recommending that Nixon, who is married to de Blasio aide and LGBT activist Christine Marinoni, “reconsider” any decision to run. “I can say unequivocally that the LGBTQ community has not had a greater champion than Governor Cuomo,” Maloney said. “Simply put, I owe my marriage to leaders like Andrew Cuomo,” he added, referring to Cuomo advocating for and signing the Marriage Equality Law in 2011.
Cuomo’s week of progressive politicking concluded with an event with former Vice President Al Gore, a prominent environmental activist, where attendees were provided with posters that said “Thank you, Governor Cuomo.” The gathering was ostensibly to announce a formal request to exclude New York-area waters from federal leasing for offshore oil and gas drilling, but Cuomo criticized the Trump administration’s policies more broadly, discussing health care and the proposed border wall with Mexico. When Gore spoke, his opening joke was about an Italian-American president, and he praised Cuomo’s “extraordinary environmental leadership.”
Both Cuomo and de Blasio are both angling for the national spotlight, and are considered potential 2020 presidential candidates. This week, it seemed as if Cuomo was attempting to earn the crown of most progressive politician in the state, perhaps signalling to Nixon and de Blasio to back down.