After much internal debate, the New York City chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America (NYC-DSA) on Sunday endorsed activist and actress Cynthia Nixon’s Democratic primary candidacy for NY Governor (and NYC Council member Jumaane Williams for Lt. Governor) against two-term incumbent Andrew Cuomo. NYC-DSA’s support came after a long list of endorsements for Nixon’s campaign that includes Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, NY14 Democratic Congressional candidate; Julia Salazar, Democratic primary candidate for the NY state Senate; Bernie Sanders, Justice Democrats, the Working Families Party, and numerous advocacy groups.
Much like her younger democratic socialist colleagues Ocasio-Cortez and Salazar, Nixon’s progressive platform focuses on fully funding public schools and battling education inequity, tax reform, single-payer healthcare, rent stabilization, and abolishing ICE (she garnered significant media attention after calling the agency a “terrorist organization” in light of the Trump administration’s zero tolerance policy). However, not all leftists see her as New York’s beacon of hope against Cuomo’s Democratic establishment.
Nixon identified herself as a democratic socialist rather quietly on July 10th in an email to Politico, which was publicly released just minutes before she entered a forum with NYC-DSA members. She wrote, “Some more establishment, corporate Democrats get very scared by this term but if being a democratic socialist means that you believe healthcare, housing, education and the things we need to thrive should be a basic right not a privilege then count me in.”
An informal poll during the forum showed the DSA committee split in thirds: one-third for endorsement, one-third against, and one-third uncertain. Later, an online poll of 1,500 members foreshadowed the citywide committee’s final green light, with four of the six local chapters approving Nixon’s candidacy. The North Brooklyn branch was one source of opposition, publishing a Medium letter entitled “The Case Against Endorsing Cynthia Nixon and Jumaane Williams.”
Members’ distrust grew in part from Nixon’s seemingly opportunistic identification as a democratic socialist just before the NYC-DSA endorsement meeting. The letter argues that DSA must not endorse candidates “as a symbolic act or a narrow transaction of political capital, but to build a mass working-class movement.” For many members, Nixon has not actually proven her dedication to democratic socialism, especially given her praise of NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio and support for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Democratic primary. Nixon is not an ardent anti-capitalist.
Other opposition stemmed from the strategic difficulty of, and lack of resources for supporting Nixon and Williams alongside Salazar and Ocasio-Cortez’s campaigns. It also refuted Williams’ candidacy specifically for taking campaign donations from conservative real estate groups and correctional officer unions. According to the letter, a citywide committee resolution resolved “that NYC-DSA supported candidates will not accept campaign funding from for-profit corporations while running for office.” Clearly, Williams’s campaign practices break these guidelines.
Nixon also took a hit from her previous line of work, the movie business in New York State. In March, Nixon advocated cutting the television and film tax incentive program, which provides thousands of local jobs throughout the state. President of Theatrical Teamsters Local 817 Tom O’Donnell told PR Newswire, “I would say a program that generates hundreds of thousands of jobs and billions in wages merits the investment.”
Despite valid objections, endorsement was approved democratically by the NYC-DSA’s 35-member Central Leadership Council, in a 2/3 vote in favor of Nixon, and a unanimous vote for Williams. Speaking after the endorsement, Co-Chair of NYC-DSA Abdullah Younus said “Cynthia Nixon and Jumaane Williams are the best chance we have to win universal rent control, Medicare for all and many other priorities for working people in New York.” For most NYC-DSA members, Nixon’s progressive values and policies are sufficient to warrant backing against Cuomo’s notorious track record across various issues.
Nixon has taken aim at Cuomo’s education policy. As an advocate for Alliance for Quality Education, a community-based coalition fighting against inequity in public school funding, partially funded by the teachers union, Nixon shames Cuomo’s discontinuation of Foundation Aid, a state funding formula that raised funding for public schools in low-income communities, typically neighborhoods populated by people of color. Cuomo subsequently cut education spending by $1.3 billion, which was used to fund tax cuts for corporations and high-income residents.
Since then Cuomo has touted education reforms in line with the teachers union, but his actions reveal his opposition to fully tackling education inequity in the state. The funding gap between rich and poor school districts has grown 24% under Gov. Cuomo.
Other items at the top of Nixon’s agenda are healthcare and affordable housing. She believes healthcare should be a human right and supports single-payer healthcare, which recent reports have shown would save the country $2 trillion over a decade if implemented nationally. In a radical stand for a Democratic candidate, she also advocates universal rent control. By comparison, Cuomo has consistently taken campaign donations from right-wing real estate groups, many of which collect millions in rent from ICE, an organization vehemently opposed by NYC-DSA.
Most members of NYC-DSA believe at the very least that Nixon’s policies align with theirs enough to help take down Cuomo, who, with a $30.4 million war chest and despite his several corruption scandals, was endorsed by Hillary Clinton, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, the Stonewall Democratic Club of NYC (an LGBTQ Democratic club that he explicitly lied to concerning his support for anti-gay marriage IDC members), the Civil Service Employees Association (the state’s largest union), and other elements of the Democratic establishment.
Now with the NYC-DSA endorsement under her belt, the question is: can and will Nixon prove her skeptical socialist colleagues wrong?