Cynthia Lost, But The Progressive Movement Won

Last night, New York governor Andrew Cuomo defeated progressive challenger Cynthia Nixon in a highly anticipated Democratic Primary. The results were not shocking. The eight-year incumbent with a record of legislative achievements managed to win about two-thirds of the vote against a first-time candidate with her roots in activism and acting. New Yorkers may have sided with “experience” in this race, but now they’re taking a much closer look.

During her campaign, Cynthia Nixon ran to the left of Governor Cuomo on a number of issues while lambasting the governor where he has failed. She advocated more funding for public schools, considering the state owes public schools a whopping $4.2 billion in funding. She was one of the first candidates to advocate for abolishing ICE, while New York’s undocumented immigrant population has been subjected to countless federal raids. Nixon even called out the governor on his mismanagement of the MTA, which has seen its worst performance with delays, disruptions, and station closures since Cuomo first took office in 2010. The criticisms didn’t end there.

In a very heated televised debate, Cynthia Nixon attacked the Governor and his record, which proved to lack the progressive credentials he normally brags about. Throughout the debate, she asked Cuomo:

  • Why haven’t you expanded access to drivers licenses to undocumented New Yorkers?
  • If you really care about the president rolling back Obamacare, why haven’t you fought harder for single payer?
  • If you really care about women’s reproductive health, why have you prioritized republican leadership in the state Senate over the Reproductive Health Act, which would codify Roe V. Wade into law?
  • Why have you not fought for the Climate and Communities Protection Act?

All of these questions are fair. It’s sometimes tough to hear criticism, but it should not take a televised debate to get answers to these types of questions from a governor. Will Andrew Cuomo make good on these questions? Maybe not, but Cynthia’s campaign sparked a slew of victories for the progressive movement.

By entering the race, Cynthia Nixon started what was dubbed “The Cynthtia Effect.” Her candidacy was magnified by her celebrity, and that brought incredible attention to this race. As she unrolled her platform, all of her issues were to the left of Andrew Cuomo’s, making him rethink some of his own positions. For instance, in 2017, Cuomo called marijuana “a gateway drug.” He believed New York should not legalize marijuana. However, Cynthia managed to frame legalizing marijuana as a social justice issue. She argued that people of color are incarcerated for marijuana possession at much higher rates than their white counterparts. Shortly after, Andrew Cuomo released a statement about researching marijuana and its effects. Nixon also pushed for ending cash bail as a part of her criminal justice reform plan. She also pushed for reforming the voting process in New York. What did Andrew Cuomo do next? He restored voting rights to paroled felons. It’s not much but it’s certainly a start!

The most powerful aspect of the Cynthia Effect was her call for disbanding the Independent Democratic Conference, also known as the IDC. The IDC is a group of State Senate Democrats that vote with Republicans in exchange for money, bigger offices, resources, and power. These eight turncoat Democrats put their political needs over the needs of their constituents.

In the first week of her campaign back in March, Cynthia promised to disband the IDC. Just days later, Governor Cuomo announced that he disbanded them. Sounds like he did the right thing, right? Well if he didn’t allow them to form years ago, New York could have passed a lot of progressive legislation. Since then, the Republican-controlled State Senate has blocked or watered down bills to undermine their effectiveness. As more people found out about this dirty tactic, they became outraged.

Each IDC member had a primary challenger. As a part of Cynthia‘s message, she would often refer to the IDC as a part of Cuomo’s failures. During the campaign trail, she would hold events alongside IDC challengers. For example, Jessica Ramos, a strong first-time candidate, ran against IDC incumbent Jose Peralta in Queens. Cynthia formed an alliance with Ramos. This had a huge impact on both campaigns. They shared volunteers, held events together, and even cross-endorsed each other. This allowed Jessica and her campaign to expand its outreach and bolster organizing efforts in the district. The result? Jessica Ramos won in a landslide victory.

Who else won? Six the of IDC-challengers won their races last night. They are Jessica Ramos, Alessandra Biaggi, Zellnor Myrie, Robert Jackson, Rachel May, and John Liu. This is the type of victory that progressives can call their own. Thanks to the organizing efforts and the attention brought to this issue, the anti-IDC sentiment became more intense as the primary dragged on. This was the momentum needed to inform people about the IDC. Thanks to Cynthia running her state-wide campaign, she managed to drive people to the polls on behalf of the IDC challengers. Reports show that voter turnout was the highest it’s been in years, and about three times as many people turned out this year than in the 2014 Primary.

If it was not for Cynthia running, we may not have had the momentum to topple the IDC. Although she failed to takedown Goliath in the highest seat in this race, she gave him a run for his money ($21 million to be exact). She only spent $2 million throughout her campaign. More importantly, Cynthia Nixon succeeded transforming this primary election. How? By bringing national attention to what could have been a boring, unchallenged primary, spreading the progressive message throughout the state of New York, and ultimately disbanding the IDC in her own right. Now we must keep the momentum fighting to the next elect UK and beyond. Onward!

(The author was a volunteer for the Cynthia Nixon campaign.)

Former Candidate for District Leader. Organizer. Democratic Socialist. Queens County Committee Member representing AD36/ED31.