Andrew Cuomo may think he’s the Mr. Big of the 2020 field, but he’s never tangled with a Miranda.
The news that “Sex and the City” actress Cynthia Nixon met with the mayor’s political strategists about the race appeared to rattle the governor, and had the state’s press corps freaking out like Carrie Bradshaw trying on a wedding dress.
Nixon, a Grammy, Emmy and Tony winner and one of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s coterie of celebrity friends, hasn’t commented about running. But her wife Christine Marinoni, a Department of Education special adviser until she quit her job this week, had been contacting LGBT organizers and employees at the consulting firm BerlinRosen to tell them that Nixon was seriously interested, a source told the Daily Beast. The Daily Mail also spotted Nixon on a film shoot, which political reporters believe is an early campaign ad.
Nixon’s publicist Rebecca Capellan only said that “many concerned New Yorkers have been encouraging Cynthia to run for office and as she has said previously she will continue to explore it.”
That remark caused the governor and the mayor to resume sniping at each other in the latest installment of their never-ending feud over who is New York’s most progressive leader.
The day after NY1 broke the news Nixon had met with the mayor’s advisors, Cuomo scoffed that either de Blasio or Vladimir Putin had put her up to it, sneering on a conference call with reporters, “I’m hoping that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie and Billy Joel don’t get into the race because if it’s just about name recognition, that would really be a problem.”
De Blasio, who’s continually trying, and usually failing, to boost his own standing as a national political player, returned the volley in a press conference hours later, calling Nixon “extraordinary” and a “strong independent woman who makes her own decisions.” He also predicted Cuomo would have a competitive primary in an interview with The Young Turks that aired later that day.
Then Cuomo called into NY1 and trashed de Blasio for poorly managing the city’s public housing and jail facilities. “I don’t think progressive politics is a function of rhetoric and words. I think it’s a function of results,” Cuomo said, adding he found the mayor’s view of progressivism “repugnant.”
It is unusual for top-tier candidates to receive a serious challenge before a presidential campaign. High profile Republicans wouldn’t run against Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren. Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown’s toughest opponent dropped out. New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is facing a private equity executive who has never run for office before.
But Nixon is no novice. She has submerged herself in politics for the past decade, advocating for more education spending, supporting the legalization of gay marriage, and lobbying Washington leaders on behalf of Planned Parenthood.
Cuomo campaign chairman Bill Mulrow brushed off threats from Nixon or any other potential challengers.
“The governor has consistently high favorability numbers among self-identified liberals and Democrats because he delivers on the issues that matter to progressives the most,” he said in a statement to the Daily Beast.
And yet, there were signs Cuomo took the Nixon rumor seriously even if state Republicans were not.
In a 48-hour span, In a 48-hour span, New York Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney an open letter supporting him over Nixon, while Cuomo joined Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar to push for greater transparency for political ads on social media, and announced a slew of re-election fundraisers with sponsorships as high as $25,000. Over the weekend Cuomo cut an ad targeting seven pro-NRA New York congressmen.
This strategy parts from the last time Cuomo faced a spirited challenge from the left.
Fordham Law professor named Zephyr Teachout ran against Cuomo in 2014, highlighting his inaction on corruption and shale gas drilling. Cuomo refused to debate her and wouldn’t even shake her hand at a Labor Day parade. But Teachout galvanized progressives and took 34 percent of the vote in the primary. Cuomo banned hydraulic fracking a few months later.
The governor wasn’t considered a presidential hopeful back then. He rarely traveled out of state and avoided answering questions about his political future. His late father, former Gov. Mario Cuomo, also traveled infrequently and famously equivocated about a White House run in 1992.
The younger Cuomo has tried to avoid the same fate. But since winning a third term, Andrew has injected himself into national politics by lobbying Washington leaders on infrastructure funding and appearing regularly on cable news to lambast the president’s policies on immigration, health care, taxes, and guns.
Before 2020, he needs to win reelection this year.
The fury on the left, percolating since 2014, reached a boiling point as Cuomo allowed a group of rogue Democrats to join Republicans, giving them a razor-thin majority in the State Senate and thus maintaining the governor’s position as the indispensable centrist able to bring the two houses of the legislature into some consensus..
“This has led to an incredible sense of betrayal and anger among Democrats in New York,” Teachout told the Daily Beast.
“My own impression of Andrew Cuomo is that he doesn’t actually have any deep-seated ideological beliefs one way or the other. He’s seeking power above all,” she added. “He trades off his father’s name and built a fortress to protect himself.”
Then there’s the subway. The governor blamed the city, ConEd, and commuter overcrowding on the inability of the world’s largest transit system to work properly. But the public wasn’t buying it and a Times expose detailing the political decisions that led to a series of breakdowns last year could have a lasting effect on the polls this year.
At least he controls the MTA. Cuomo sat helplessly as a jury convicted his family friends and former top aide Joe Percoco Tuesday on three felony counts of bribery and honest services wire fraud charges. Percoco faces up to 50 years in prison. While Cuomo wasn’t directly implicated in the scheme, his name came up frequently during the trial and his approval numbers dropped nine points in the month before the verdict, which could be a blip or an unsettling trend for a governor who first came to office vowing to clean up Albany politics.
“There’s a gradual sense that something is deeply rotten and the governor isn’t doing anything to fix it,” Teachout said.