By Maria Rocha-Buschel
Gubernatorial hopeful Cynthia Nixon made her case to East Side Democrats at a candidate event co-hosted by various local political clubs on Monday. Governor Andrew Cuomo did not make an appearance, instead sending Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul to speak for both herself and the current governor. The event was called a debate by organizers but was set up more like a forum, with candidates taking turns speaking,
State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman was also supposed to send a representative but a scandal that erupted in the middle of the event explained the absence of his office. Journalist Ronan Farrow broke a story in the New Yorker just before 7 p.m. that night with four women accusing Schneiderman of violent sexual assault. Village Independent Democrats President Erik Coler said that the AG’s office canceled the appearance 20 minutes before the event was supposed to start. Schneiderman ultimately announced his resignation from the office a few hours later.
Nixon, meanwhile, was greeted warmly at the event, with enthusiastic cheers, especially at mentions of the governor’s shortcomings although Hochul was greeted warmly as well when she came up to speak about her advocacy in women’s rights and healthcare.
Nixon, best known for her role on the HBO show “Sex and the City” and who has been a public school advocate in New York, emphasized at the event that her status as a lifelong New Yorker is what inspired her to run for governor.
Nixon was primarily raised by a single mother in a five-story walkup and noted that even when she was growing up, landlords often tried to take advantage of tenants.
“There were so many times when I saw my mother stand up in a difficult situation in which she felt powerless but discovered her power and she won,” Nixon said. “One day she came to me and said she discovered that our landlord had been cheating us on the rent but she had investigated and was holding him accountable.”
Nixon said that part of her platform is to renew rent laws, as well as strengthen and expand them, but did not provide specifics on how.
She also pointed to her advocacy in education as a reason for her run, which was spurred by budget cuts when her oldest child entered school in 2001.
“The school that we arrived at in September was so different from the school that we had toured in the previous spring because they had had massive budget cuts over the summer,” she said. “I went to a protest and spoke about how angry and concerned we were about how our schools were always getting the short end of the stick. That was the beginning of my 17-year campaign to go around the state of New York with other parents. When we fight for our children and join together with other parents, we are amazed at what we can accomplish.”
Nixon said that she voted for Cuomo eight years ago because she thought he would govern like a Democrat but was disappointed when he started “acting like a Republican” by incentivizing Democrats to caucus with Republicans and also allowing Republicans to draw their own gerrymandered districting maps.
“With these two moves, he ensured that 90 percent of the progressive priorities of the Democratic Party in New York State were blocked by the Republican Party’s stranglehold on the Senate,” she said.
Disability advocate Mike Schweinsburg attended the forum and pressed Nixon on the lack of accessibility throughout the city for disabled New Yorkers, and Nixon agreed, saying that she would try to work with advocates in her campaign and said that the issue is especially pressing when it comes to the MTA.
“We have such issues all over the state with access and one of the most important in New York City is accessibility on the subways,” she said. “We have a long way to go. One of the things that Governor Cuomo has done is a lot of cosmetic changes to the subway, which really don’t get to the heart of the matter when you’re talking about service. Renovating stations as he has done and not providing accessibility is very wrong-headed.”
Later, when Hochul was asked if she could point to an issue in which she disagrees with the governor, she pointed to public housing as an issue that she feels hasn’t always gotten enough attention.
“I think we can be doing more to work with people in public housing. It’s something we probably should’ve embraced earlier,” she said. “It’s an ongoing problem. The work we’re doing now is a step in the right direction but I would have focused on it earlier.”
City Councilmember Jumaane Williams was at the event to challenge Hochul for the position of lieutenant governor and explained that he wants to change the scope of the position, which generally aligns with the governor, and instead wants the role to provide a check on the governor’s power.
“I want to be the people’s lieutenant governor,” he said. “The city has a public advocate but there’s no public advocate for the state. Governor Cuomo has this progressive cloak and jacket and now that it’s election time, that cloak is on tight. We need that all the time, and we need someone to shine a light on all those issues.”
State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli also popped into the event from Albany, where he was heading back that evening, to get support from local Democrats, emphasizing that 2018 is an important year for elections. He acknowledged that comptroller is a position that most New Yorkers don’t know much about (and admitted that he’s been confused for City Comptroller Scott Stringer on more than one occasion) but said that his main role is to promote accountability.
“It’s important to promote government efficiency,” he said. “There are too many instances of government officials stealing from the public.”
The forum was hosted by the Village Independent Democrats, a political club in the Village, and was co-hosted by a number of local groups, including the Eleanor Roosevelt Democratic Club, the Gramercy Stuyvesant Democrats, the Tilden Democratic Club and others.