When Cynthia Nixon announced that she would be challenging Democratic incumbent Andrew Cuomo in the New York Governor’s race back in March, the former Sex and the City star was clear about her progressive platform. An activist for LGBTQ rights and public schools, Nixon came out of the gate by declaring her support for marijuana legalization and overhauling public transportation, especially the ever worsening New York City subway system. Some see Nixon’s campaign as a long shot – Cuomo, who is seeking his third term, comes from a New York political dynasty, he’s earned endorsements from big name Democrats like Hillary Clinton and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, and he was quick to throw shade at Nixon as a celebrity candidate lacking A-list name recognition.
But Cuomo has, like so many other members of the Democratic establishment, underestimated the fervor and frustration of progressive voters who are sick of having their demands dismissed. Nixon’s campaign captured immediate buzz and excitement, including from younger voters who are staring down the prospect of a terrifying future without guaranteed health care, abortion access or the ability to retire. Their energy and influence can no longer be denied. The recent New York congressional primary victory of Democratic Socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, 28, over a 10-term incumbent has signaled a potential sea change towards a more boldly progressive Democratic Party – and Nixon seems to have captured that wave, and is holding on for dear life. She’s even embraced the Democratic Socialist label, which just a few years ago, even Bernie Sanders seemed afraid to use.
“Some more establishment, corporate Democrats get very scared by this term but if democratic socialism means that you believe health care, housing, education and the things we need to thrive should be a basic right not a privilege then count me in,” Nixon said in the statement to Politico yesterday.
She and Julia Salazar – a Democratic Socialists of America member running against an eight-term incumbent for Congress in Brooklyn – also recently exchanged mutual endorsements. Nixon appears to be taking cues from 28-year-old Ocasio-Cortez, who has been vocal about her belief that political seats that are historically safe from Republican challenge should be occupied by Democrats who are committed to sustaining a progressive agenda. That means no more playing it “safe” to counteract Trumpism as Democratic leaders like Nancy Pelosi prefer.
“YASSSSS QUEEN,” as Ilana Glazer from Comedy Central’s “Broad City” might put it. Speaking of “Broad City,” Glazer and her co-star, Abbi Jacobson, recently endorsed Nixon, and in a nod to the candidate’s support for marijuana legalization, they announced a fundraising contest with a special prize for one lucky toker, er, voter.
“Yes, it’s really us,” Jacobson and Glazer wrote this week in a Nixon campaign email pitch to potential supporters. “We’re big fans of Cynthia, so we’re helping her out any way we can. And today, that means giving out a FREE BONG …”
The email went on to discuss the link between legalization, racial justice, and mass incarceration, like the fact that 80 percent of New Yorkers arrested for marijuana are Black or Latino. “We have to stop putting people of color in jail for something that white people do with impunity,” Nixon has said in the past.
Nixon’s most radical move yet came on the heels of President Trump’s nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court; if affirmed, Kavanaugh would officially swing the court’s balance to the right, leaving abortion rights advocates fearful that Roe v. Wade could be overturned. Speaking at a pro-choice in NYC’s Union Square on Tuesday night, Nixon shared that before the 1973 court case made abortion legal, her mother was one of the many women who terminated a pregnancy illegally. It’s a story she’s shared before, but not since running for public office; talking about abortion in such unmincing terms is rare for even pro-choice politicians, whose messaging tends to conform around conservative talking points.
Nixon also called upon Cuomo to call a special legislative session to pass a bill that would codify the laws protecting Roe v. Wade on a state level. On Monday, Cuomo tepidly responded to those demands by urging the state legislature to do just that – but stopped short of actually ordering the session himself.
Cuomo’s continued caution only serves to strengthen Nixon’s chances. Standing at the podium on Tuesday evening, Nixon held up a wire hanger, a symbol of reproductive justice because of its association with illegal, and sometimes self-administered, abortions.
“We must fight like hell in New York and across the country to preserve Roe v. Wade so that no woman will ever feel compelled to use something like this on herself again,” Nixon said.