Cynthia Nixon, the self-described insurgent New York gubernatorial candidate, is busy preparing for her first and only debate against incumbent Gov. Andrew Cuomo ahead of their September 13 primary election. For the first-time candidate challenging what she calls Cuomo's "creaky Democratic machine," Wednesday night will likely help introduce her progressive platform to a wider audience.
But Nixon says the circumstances surrounding the debate haven't been fair from the start. For one thing, Cuomo reportedly negotiated directly with debate host WCBS-TV over the terms, giving the actress and activist no opportunity for input. These terms included the candidates sitting behind desks rather than standing at podiums (which is unusual, but how Cuomo prefers to do his press conferences), no opening or closing statements, no shaking hands (Cuomo also didn't shake his 2014 challenger Zephyr Teachout's hand), and their families not being allowed to come onto the stage afterward.
Cuomo's preference for icy conditions has particularly incensed Nixon's campaign. And as women who know that office-building air-conditioning is one big sexist conspiracy plot — thermostats are actually based on the metabolic rate of a 40-year-old man in the 1960s — we can relate to this one.
It's been widely reported that Cuomo likes it cold, keeping temperatures so low for his big appearances that attendees and reporters are forced to bundle up in parkas, hats, and scarves. Knowing this, Nixon strategist Rebecca Katz requested that the debate hall at Hofstra University be kept at a reasonable 76 degrees in an email to WCBS-TV. Conditions are "notoriously sexist when it comes to room temperature, so we just want to make sure we're all on the same page here," she wrote in an email that was leaked to the New York Times. Katz told the Times that she just wanted to make sure it's not uncomfortably cold.
I'll debate the governor in a parka if I have to.
Nixon decried Cuomo's handling of the lead-up to the debate, pointing out to the Times that she had challenged him to multiple debates but he only agreed to this one, and shortly before the primary, too. "CBS was very frank with us that they really didn’t have a choice — that these were his demands and if they were not acceded to, he wouldn’t show up," Nixon told the Times.
"The way this debate was handled is just one example of the uneven playing field facing women candidates this election cycle," Nixon told Refinery29. "So many women running for the first time against establishment candidates are told that they should feel grateful that their challenger is even acknowledging them. That's not how our democracy is supposed to work — incumbents aren't entitled to reelection, and women shouldn't have to jump through ridiculous hoops to show they have a right to run for office. But, I'll debate the governor in a parka if I have to because the people of New York deserve a debate, and insurgent, female candidates have a right to make their voices heard."
The Cuomo campaign never weighed in on the temperature, but it did hit back against Nixon's claims. "The Nixon campaign thrives on paranoia and melodrama, and these silly accusations are more of the same," spokesperson Lis Smith told the Times. "They can debate about debates, but the governor is focused on having a substantive, in-depth discussion about the issues facing New York." (To be fair, accusing women of being paranoid and melodramatic for having reasonable wishes and opinions is the oldest gaslighting trick in the book.)