Liberal activist Cynthia Nixon announced Monday that she’ll challenge Gov. Andrew Cuomo in New York’s Democratic primary in September, setting up a race that the state’s progressives have been pining for against a two-term incumbent with a $30 million war chest and possible presidential ambitions.
“We want our government to work again. On health care, ending massive incarceration, fixing our broken subway,” Nixon said in a campaign video announcing her candidacy. “We are sick of politicians who care more about headlines and power than they do about us.”
“Eight years ago,” she wrote on her website, “I voted for Andrew Cuomo because I believed he was a real Democrat. But since taking office, Governor Cuomo has shown us his true colors.”
Nixon has her work cut out for her. A Siena College poll released Monday showed Cuomo leading her by 66 percent to 19 percent among registered Democrats, and by a similar margin among self-identified liberals. Nixon did a little better among younger and upstate Democrats, but didn’t have more than a quarter of either group.
However, the conviction of his former top aide, Joseph Percoco, has apparently weighed down Cuomo’s favorability rating. Just 52 percent of voters say they had a favorable view of the governor, compared to 62 percent in January.
A possible comfort to Nixon is the 60 percent of Democrats who are undecided about her, and the enthusiasm of progressives for her candidacy.
“Nixon knows the hill is a very steep one, especially given Cuomo’s massive money advantage, but Cuomo actually also has a herculean task before him,” said Jonathan Tasini, a progressive activist who challenged Hillary Clinton’s re-election as senator from New York in 2006.
“If [Cuomo] is seriously considering running for president in 2020, he can’t have Nixon run up a north-of-40 percent number, which is entirely doable because the energized progressive wing has no big love for the incumbent,” Tasini said.
Nixon has in recent months given speeches and interviews calling on Democrats nationally to run “bluer” in 2018 and carve out a strong, progressive liberal identity rather than being merely “the anti-Trump party.”
It’s a left-flank strategy that has had success against Cuomo in the past — nearly unknown liberal activist and law professor Zephyr Teachout garnered a surprising 34 percent of the vote in the 2014 Democratic primary.
Teachout, a law professor at Fordham University, is now Nixon’s campaign treasurer.
“It could be a fight for the soul of the Democratic Party in some sense,” said Baruch College political scientist Douglas Muzzio.
Nixon’s candidacy has sparked concern among pro-Israel activists for her stances, which includes support for boycotting Israel.
“Cynthia Nixon may run for Gov of NY,” Alan Dershowitz, a Harvard law professor emeritus, tweeted on Friday. “She has collaborated with Israel haters Jewish Voice for Peace and Vanessa Redgrave in boycotting Israel. Do not support her bigotry.”
He followed up on Monday by noting a vehement reaction to his original tweet among his liberal base. “The tweets in response to my Cynthia Nixon tweet prove my point. If you’re anti-Israel, Nixon’s your candidate,” Dershowitz posted.
Nixon, a 51-year-old Manhattan mother of three, is a longtime advocate for more funding for public schools and is a fervent supporter of Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has frequently clashed with Cuomo.
More recently, she has been delving into issues of keen interest to New York City, the main blue stronghold in a state where suburban and rural towns upstate tend to run red.
One of those issues is transportation policy, which contributed to a plunge in Cuomo’s popularity last July amid his dismal forecast for New York City commuters facing ongoing transit breakdowns and delays.