Cynthia Nixon may never be governor, but she’s already changed NY politics

Cynthia Nixon

Cynthia Nixon Photo: Metropolitan Transit Authority of New York State (CC license 2.0)

Cynthia Nixon’s bid to become governor of New York State suffered a serious blow last Wednesday when delegates to the state Democratic convention voted to endorse Gov. Andrew Cuomo with more than 95 percent of the vote. The results were hardly surprising; the convention is controlled by party regulars who have long been lined up behind Cuomo.

Nixon is now promising to mount a signature-gathering drive to get on the Democratic primary ballot. “We’re going to hit the streets and we’re going to collect 50,000 signatures across the state,” she said on a conference call Thursday. Nixon needs 15,000 valid signatures to qualify for a spot on the primary ballot in September.

As with so much else with New York politics, the petition effort is design to be as convoluted as possible to benefit the political establishment. But even without qualifying, Nixon has had a remarkable impact on state politics.

Cuomo, who clearly harbors presidential ambitions, had been hoping to coast to an easy victory this year. That would set him up nicely for the 2020 presidential campaign season. Instead, he’s been on the defensive, having to prove his bona fides to the progressive wing of his party.

Nixon staked out a series of positions that Cuomo ultimately adopted: legalization of marijuana, restoration of felons’ voting rights, a ban on single use plastic bags.

Some of these represented a complete about face for the governor. Just last year, for example, he called cannabis a “gateway drug.” Nixon’s supporters have dubbed these changes “the Cynthia effect.”

Cuomo has some significant progressive credentials to tout, starting with his push in 2011 to make New York the largest state at the time to adopt marriage equality.

But he’s running up against the central tension in the Democratic party right now: the establishment vs. the progressives. And Cuomo is plainly a product of the establishment wing of the party.

As much heartburn as Nixon may be causing Cuomo, he stands little danger of losing re-election. If anything, in the long run, Nixon may be doing Cuomo a favor by pushing him to get with the direction the party seems to be heading in.

Being the safe establishment candidate isn’t exactly a formula for quickly clinching the presidential nomination. Just ask Hillary Clinton about her experience with Bernie Sanders.

Of course, Cuomo may not have learned that lesson. Among the speakers to enthusiastically endorse him at the party convention last Wednesday: Hillary Clinton. Without any apparent irony, she praised the governor as the kind of leader to “stand up for progressive values.”

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