Inside the dimly lit Stonewall Inn, the crowd cheered "Cynthia! Cynthia! Cynthia!" as actress and New York gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon took the tiny stage at her first launch party on Wednesday. A tight-knit circle of supporters, among them quite a few personal friends of Nixon and her wife, braved the latest nor'easter to drink beer and get excited about her campaign. The significance of the Greenwich Village bar was not lost: In 1969, riots there helped set the stage for the national gay rights movement.
In the grungy tavern, under twinkly lights and "Cynthia NY" posters, Nixon was at the inception of her own movement after a long history of political activism. Christine Marinoni, Nixon's wife of six years, introduced her spouse by reminiscing about how they met when fighting for public-school funding, and how Nixon got arrested outside of City Hall back in 2002 for protesting then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposal to cut $350 million from the Board of Education’s budget.
"Some people think, what an odd occurrence that Cynthia Nixon, a celebrity, is running for governor, but for those of us who know her it makes total sense," said Marinoni. "Cynthia has a very keen sense of the type of world we should be living in and the type of New York she thinks we can and should have, and she's extremely smart, she's extremely strategic, she's really, really, really fierce, and when Cynthia gets into a fight, she's in it to win it."
When Nixon took the stage, she immediately addressed LGBTQ rights — while taking the chance to hit back at former City Council Speaker Christine Quinn recently calling her an "unqualified lesbian." Nixon seems to have made Quinn's ill-advised comment a bit of a calling card, both on Twitter and IRL — the new "nasty woman," if you will.
"Welcome, unqualified lesbians — and qualified ones, too," she said to loud cheers. "Welcome to the trans community. Welcome to queer people of every stripe and to our beautiful straight allies. Thank you for coming here tonight, for braving the snow, for braving Governor Cuomo's MTA." One of Nixon's signature issues is fixing the delay-plagued subway.
She spoke about the challenges LGBTQ people face under the Trump administration. "Being queer and being visible has been one of the unexpected joys of my life. And I must say, as a community, we're at a thorny moment in our LGBTQ journey," she said. We may have repealed Don't Ask, Don't Tell and passed marriage equality, but, she said, "The sun is not shining equally on all of us. Queer people who are also African-American or Muslim or Latino or working class are being targeted brutally on a daily basis."
Nixon went through the rest of her issues with zeal: the state's unequal public-school system, the mass incarceration problem, and how New Yorkers shouldn't accept any of it, "particularly when we have that small, miserable orange man in the White House."
The people in the bar punctuated her speech with spirited shouts of "Girl, preach" and "No Cuomo," referring to the incumbent governor. Filled with government officials who declined to talk to reporters — some of whom said they had worked for Gov. Andrew Cuomo in the past — it was a crowd that was clearly tired of the status quo.
Cuomo, who leads Nixon among Democratic voters in a recent poll (66% to 19%), has addressed progressive interests in the past couple of years by passing a minimum wage increase and the paid family leave law. But Nixon's campaign is the one with the small-dollar support. While Cuomo, who has $31 million in his campaign treasury, has raised over 99% of his campaign funds from donations over $1,000, Nixon's campaign said it has received more under-$200 donations in its first day than Cuomo has in seven years.
In the first 24 hours after she announced she was running on Monday, Nixon received 2,214 contributions of under $200, while Cuomo has only gotten 1,369 under-$200 donations since 2011, when he assumed office, according to the New York State Board of Elections. Nixon's campaign site emphasizes that she doesn't accept corporate contributions.
"It's a people-powered campaign and we need the people," she said, calling on supporters to sign up, donate, and get their friends to donate. "I need you out on the street, I need you knocking on doors."
Feeling the energy in that crowded-as-the-subway room, it was very clear what type of campaign this was going to be: rooted in New York's progressive history — she gave a nod to the Black Lives Matter movement — and unapologetically grassroots.
But to some, her TV-star power will never fade.
"It's a sparkle. She has a sparkle," one of her supporters concluded.
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