Empire State of Mind

There Is a Mysterious Movement Underway to Promote Cynthia Nixon for New York Governor

The ‘Sex and the City’ star has flirted with running against Andrew Cuomo. And she has some boosters cheering her on.

On Aug. 4, The Wall Street Journal caused a stir when it reported that Sex and the City star Cynthia Nixon was thinking about challenging New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in next year’s gubernatorial election.

The report claimed that Nixon was considering the run and was being cajoled into jumping in by progressive groups and allies in the state who were disappointed with Cuomo’s record on education and public transportation.

On the same day the Journal article appeared in its print edition, a political operative who worked as the lead digital strategist for the grassroots organization People for Bernie and has made campaign websites for progressive candidates in the past launched what appeared to be a campaign website for Nixon’s candidacy.

CynthiaNixonForGovernor.com was anonymously purchased on Aug. 4. But an email address hidden in the page’s source code showed a contact button and Squarespace hosting page run by Caleb-Michael Files.

According to his website, Files currently serves as a digital and communications strategy manager for an organization called Purpose, which works with progressive groups to assist them with “public mobilization and storytelling.”

In the past, he was a digital director for NextGen Climate and People for Bernie, a group for supporters of the senator’s presidential campaign.

Reached by phone, Files said that “I’m not aware of anything in relation to it,” when asked about his email’s association to the website. Moments later, the email associated with the Nixon for Governor website changed to a generic [email protected] address. The hosting for the site switched from Files’ personal account to the Squarespace username cynthianixonforgovernor.

Files, who said that his only prior interaction with Nixon was when he processed a contribution she made at a fundraiser for Paul Ryan-challenger Randy Bryce, returned a second call from The Daily Beast. In that call, he acknowledged that he did create CynthiaNixonForGovernor.com, but insisted that he was “not related to her campaign at all.”

“It was more just to see if there was any interest in (her campaign) and what the build for that would be. There’s been no reach out (from Nixon’s camp),” said Files, who called the domain’s purchase “totally a drunken after-hours thing” that stemmed from people talking about her potential campaign at his work.

When asked why he wasn’t forthcoming in the first phone call, Files said he was “honestly freaked out” because he’d never purchased a site for candidate before.

By Wednesday evening, the site had been taken down.  

Whether benign or by design, the launching of the Nixon website adds further intrigue into an already highly-intriguing potential campaign run. And it’s not just because Files has previously worked for Zephyr Teachout, a law professor who unsuccessfully challenged Cuomo in the past. Or that he has built official campaign websites before, for Tishaura Jones’ mayoral campaign in St. Louis, Maria Chapelle-Nadal’s bid for Congress in Missouri, and several others running in city and statewide elections, sometimes using SquareSpace.

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As the idea of Nixon’s candidacy bounced around the web and New York media this week, the former Sex and the City star hasn’t done anything to quell the rumors. During an appearance on the Today show on Tuesday, she said she’s keeping tabs on the stories.

“I have heard those rumors,” said the actress and progressive activist, who is promoting a new film. “I’ve heard them. I’ve read them.”

She added: “I think there are a lot of people who would like me to run and I think for a variety of reasons, but I think the number one is education.”

Nixon has been active in the New York political universe for years, and even served on an advisory board for the city’s mayor, Bill de Blasio. Last month she attended a Working Families Party fundraiser for Bryce.

Most people in the progressive New York sphere of politics don’t want to get ahead of themselves in terms of discussing a run that is still speculative at this point. But there has been unmistakable chatter about her potentially challenging Cuomo even prior to The Wall Street Journal piece. Billy Easton, executive director of Alliance for Quality Education, an advocacy group intended to ensure every child has access to a good public education in the state, said Nixon would make for a strong candidate.

“I can’t really comment on whether or not she’s going to run,” Easton told The Daily Beast. “She is a candidate that would really excite people in New York state.”

He added that her advocacy for fair and equal public education—Nixon serves as a spokesperson for the organization—would animate voters in a potential matchup.

“We have the second largest gap in funding between rich and poor schools in the country,” Easton said. “That’s an issue that has really motivated her as a parent and activist.”

If nothing else, the trial balloon for Nixon might serve as a means for allies of de Blasio to put a squeeze on Cuomo. The relationship between the two men has always been fraught and has deteriorated further during the recent degradation of New York’s MTA.

Bill Hyers, a former campaign manager for de Blasio and current adviser for Bryce, told The Daily Beast that he’s excited that Nixon is thinking about it but claimed he doesn’t know much more than public reporting suggests which he’s been retweeting on his feed recently.

“This seems to all be the actual “thinking about it” phase, but I know nothing concretely at all,” Hyers said.

“People really don’t want to make Cuomo mad,” Hyers added. “Except me, I really really enjoy it.”