New Yorkers chose incumbent Gov. Andrew Cuomo over actress and activist Cynthia Nixon in the state's Democratic gubernatorial primary on Thursday, September 13.
While Gov. Cuomo's campaign had the money and power, Nixon had the hustle. The public-education advocate was out greeting voters on the Upper West Side on Thursday evening, almost up until the polls closed. Since she declared her candidacy in March, our inboxes have been constantly buzzing with updates from the campaign — one day she's in Syracuse talking about the minimum wage, the next she's holding a star-studded fundraiser in Manhattan. And, unscientifically speaking, roughly 95% of election-day enthusiasm on social media came from Nixon voters.
Still, Gov. Cuomo's experience — or "the corrupt Democratic machine," as Nixon backers would say — prevailed, and he received 65.6% of the vote to Nixon's 34.4%.
Nixon, who has continuously called out Gov. Cuomo for failing to be the type of progressive Democrat the state needs, succeeded in pushing him to the left on issues such as marijuana legalization, restoring voting rights for felons, and the housing crisis in New York City. She shed light on his inability to pass single-payer healthcare, properly fund public education, and stay away from the influence of real-estate developers.
In her post-election remarks in front of a lively crowd at Café Omar in Brooklyn, Nixon spoke about how her campaign has already changed the conversation. "We took on one of the most powerful governors in America. It wasn't easy," she said. "We had to fight just to get on the ballot. We had to fight just to get a debate. We started with nothing and we earned every single vote. The establishment came at us with everything they had."
"I'm not discouraged, I'm inspired, and I hope you are, too," Nixon said. "We have fundamentally changed the political landscape in this state. We have changed what is expected of a Democratic candidate running in New York and what we can demand from our elected leaders."
Thanks to Gov. Cuomo's $30 million in campaign cash and his glitzy endorsements — Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden — Nixon faced an uphill battle. His campaign also reportedly spent as much as $500,000 a day in its final sprint, as they became increasingly worried that the youth and progressive energy around Nixon could topple his empire.
A large number of New York voters, many of them Nixon supporters, reported being told they're not on the rolls during Thursday's primary despite being registered. While some of these incidents were attributed to clerical confusion, it's unclear why some registered Democrats could not be found in the system.
Those who voted for Gov. Cuomo largely cited his experience. Monjula Ray, 40, who lives in Greenpoint, said she voted for Gov. Cuomo because he has already accomplished many progressive wins, like legalizing same-sex marriage. "He is a highly effective governor and he's the reason my wife and I could get married in New York," Ray tells Refinery29.
Ray says she was turned off by the fact that Nixon often said Gov. Cuomo "governed like a Republican."
"Find me a Republican governor who has gotten his state gay marriage, a path to a $15 minimum wage, and free college for those who can't pay for it. It's absurd," says Ray.
Nicole Smith, 33, who lives on the Upper East Side, also says she voted for Gov. Cuomo because he's been around the block. "While I haven't agreed with a lot of decisions Cuomo has made over the years, I think he stands a better chance of ensuring my rights as a woman stay intact in NYC. This was also confirmed through Planned Parenthood's endorsement of him." [Ed. note: The organization's state political action committee endorsed the governor.]
Some of Gov. Cuomo's tactics, such as last-minute campaign mailers that implied Nixon was anti-Semitic, did give Smith pause, but it didn't stop her from voting for him. "The mailers were desperate and obviously the team is feeling the heat, really disappointing."
Millennial women who voted for Nixon said they did so because they were ready for change. "I voted for Cynthia because a ton of the issues she spoke about aligned with what I was concerned about," Kim Garcia, 21, who lives in Yonkers, tells Refinery29. "I commute to school in the city and the subway not running on time is a hassle. I don’t think Cuomo has done much in the eight years he was in office."