We don’t know what artwork actress-activist Cynthia Nixon keeps in her New York City home, but it might be that famous old New Yorker magazine cover.
You know – Saul Steinberg’s 1976 depiction of Manhattan as the center of the universe, with very little beyond 9th Avenue, and certainly nothing across the Hudson River. Except Jersey. Maybe China.
Buffalo? The state’s second-largest city? Somewhere in those vast stretches labeled on 16th century maps as “unexplored territory.”
So more than a month after declaring her Democratic primary candidacy, it was only natural that Nixon was immediately queried during her first campaign visit to Buffalo on Wednesday: Is this just a New York City thing?
“That’s entirely untrue,” the former “Sex and the City” star replied. “We’ve got a lot of poverty in New York City, but there’s poverty in Buffalo, in Rochester, and certainly in Syracuse it’s even worse, frankly. The things I want to do as governor are things everybody in every part of the state wants regardless of political party.”
Then she listed priorities like schools, clean air and water, enhanced transportation and affordable housing, while blasting the state’s “top down” economic development plans.
So with that pesky “where have you been?” question dispatched, Nixon begins her Democratic primary challenge to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. Her candidacy is serious, it will have an effect, and she is already driving the Cuomo operation crazy. Her mere presence in Buffalo on Wednesday put the Cuomo operation into overdrive.
“The governor fundamentally transformed the state’s approach to driving growth in Western New York and investing in Buffalo’s economic success,” retorted spokeswoman Abbey Fashouer. “The results are both real and tangible.”
Cuomo’s Buffalo Billion concept is laudable, Nixon says. But then she points to Buffalo Billion contractors facing bid rigging charges, questions why contributors benefit so handsomely from such programs, and only underscores the real questions voters will ask when trials get under way this summer.
Nixon will bring it all home by asking how women, immigrants, and communities of color benefit.
“This not a time for centrism,” she said in Buffalo Wednesday in what may prove a key theme of her campaign.
Meanwhile, she is already having an effect. The goal of left-wing Cuomo opponents like Mayor Bill de Blasio was always to cement progressivism in New York through a Democratic Senate. Facing a primary, Cuomo has finally united the chamber’s warring Democratic factions.
The governor points to same-sex marriage, a $15 minimum wage, new gun safety laws, free college tuition at state universities, paid family leave, and ending finger printing for food stamps. “Outliberal me on those,” he tells Nixon.
But the assault from the left continues, and the governor must react – especially in a Democratic primary when the most liberal Democrats are those most likely to vote.
It may also lie behind Cuomo’s less than enthusiastic defense of his lieutenant governor, Kathy Hochul. He faces an additional attack from the left-leaning Working Families Party, from which Nixon has teamed up with New York City Councilman Jumaane Williams of Brooklyn. They are running as Working Families candidates for governor and lieutenant governor (at least for now) as well as in the Democratic primary.
Cuomo surrogates a few weeks ago attempted to provide Hochul a “soft landing” with an impossible slot against Republican Rep. Chris Collins. Now the lieutenant governor twists in the wind.
All of this is only beginning to play out. Cuomo knows that an unknown named Zephyr Teachout gained about one-third of the 2014 Democratic primary vote. Now he faces a celebrity who knows how to articulate the issues.
For all her audacity and “New Yorker cover” view of the state, Nixon will be a factor.