It took more than a month for actress-activist Cynthia Nixon to bring her Democratic primary campaign for governor to New York’s second largest city.
But the former “Sex and the City” star did not waste a minute Wednesday in taking on Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, claiming credit for already pulling him leftward on several issues and lambasting him for a “top down” economic development program that rewards corporations, contributors and billionaires.
“It’s a good idea, and a billion is an appropriate amount of money and an appropriate place to start,” Nixon said of Cuomo’s Buffalo Billion program that has largely funded the new Tesla facility at the RiverBend industrial park.
“But so much of that – $750 million – went to one developer who was a big campaign contributor,” she said, referring to the bid-rigging charges associated with contractors involved in the project. “That’s no way to run a government. That’s not fair. That’s not equitable.”
Instead, she said community groups told her they have unsuccessfully tried for years to inform Cuomo of the Buffalo neighborhood needs that also deserve state investments.
“We can tell you how to reinvigorate neighborhoods, and it’s not from the top down,” she said the groups tell her, “and it’s not by giving hundreds of millions of dollars to developers with absolutely no bidding system and no oversight.”
Nixon also said the number of jobs has to merit the investment, referring to other objections to the Buffalo Billion program.
Erie County Democratic Chairman Jeremy J. Zellner, meanwhile, was quick to note that Nixon ignored Buffalo well into her campaign.
“It’s unprecedented for a gubernatorial candidate not to set foot in Western New York this far into their campaign,” he said. “Buffalo is the second largest city in New York with diverse needs and challenges. It’s taken Cynthia Nixon 38 days to take even a cursory look at what those are.”
Nixon, meanwhile, even blamed Cuomo’s “power establishment” for her ejection earlier Wednesday from her scheduled appearance at the Olivencia Community Center because of the event’s political nature, forcing her relocation to Babeville on Delaware Avenue.
“I’m here meeting with grassroots leaders and activists in Buffalo, and I guess that is really a threat to the power establishment here,” she said. “It shouldn’t be. It’s a democracy. I just want to talk.”
Later she blamed her relocation on the governor, indicating leaders of the Olivencia Center had “received a phone call from someone close to the mayor, an ally of Gov. Cuomo.”
“Andrew Cuomo’s latest attempt to threaten and intimidate his way to victory made one thing very clear: The governor is clearly scared of our campaign, and desperately wants me to go away,” she said. “Well, we can’t be bullied out of the race. I’ll meet with voters on street corners if we have to.”
Any thought that Cuomo forces influenced the center’s request that she not use the facility is “totally inaccurate,” according to Cuomo spokeswoman Abbey Fashouer.
“That’s just obviously not true,” she said.
Regarding economic development, Fashouer added: "After decades of neglect from Albany, the governor fundamentally transformed the state’s approach to driving growth in Western New York and investing in Buffalo’s economic success. The results are both real and tangible – unemployment has rapidly declined, wages are growing, Western New York is home to more than half a million jobs, and more millennials than ever before – a 14 percent increase since 2010 – are calling Buffalo home. We’re proud of the progress achieved and will continue to build on this record of results.”
Nixon’s name recognition has catapulted her into the media spotlight since she declared her primary candidacy against Cuomo, even if polls show she faces a major challenge against the incumbent seeking a third term. But she said Wednesday that her campaign is gaining momentum because New Yorkers are not satisfied with Cuomo’s approach.
“It is not a time for centrism,” she said. “It’s time for a change. The governor has done such a great job we should give him a third term? I don’t think so.”
Nixon used her first Western New York visit to outline exactly how she plans to become a serious contender for the Democratic nomination. That includes calling for more spending on education, infrastructure and anti-pollution programs that she claims will stimulate the economy.
She said every $1 billion invested in transportation produces 25,000 new jobs (though she did not specifically identify the $1.2 billion Metro Rail extension proposed by Cuomo). She cited Lake Erie as “Buffalo’s most important resource,” noting the region can only reap its benefits “as long as it’s clean.”
Nixon also complained that Cuomo’s policies have “decimated towns and cities” as well as school districts. Indeed, education funding has emerged as central to her platform, and she pointed to the need for more resources even when asked a question about high taxes.
“One of the things that will be my priority will be to make sure that schools are fully funded and equitably funded,” she said.
Nixon’s campaign gained steam earlier this month when the Working Families Party state committee granted her an early endorsement before its convention in May. But Nixon has so far not committed to ultimately accepting the line, which could cast her as a “spoiler” by siphoning votes from the Democratic candidate.
Instead, she turns the question around.
“Why is nobody asking Andrew Cuomo that question, who is running on the Independence line and the Women’s Equality line he created?” she asked.