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Underdog Nixon Says She Sees A Path To Victory In Primary

Mark Lennihan
Democratic New York gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon endorses New York State Assemblyman Harvey Epstein, left, at a news conference last week in New York. Nixon faces incumbent Gov. Andrew Cuomo in the September primary.

It’s three weeks until primary day in New York, and the Democratic underdog for governor, Cynthia Nixon, is laying out her plans for the final stretch of campaigning, saying there is a potential path to victory.

Nixon is trailing incumbent Governor Andrew Cuomo by 30 points in the polls. But she says there is a path to victory, and recent contests, including the June upset win of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez over incumbent Congressman Joe Crowley in a Democratic primary, have shown the polls aren’t always accurate.   

“I think that the polls right now are not capturing the new progressive voters and the hunger for real change,” Nixon said.

Nixon says there are half a million new registered Democrats who will be eligible to vote in the September 13 primary.  

The challenger, who has relied on small donations to fund her race, has far less money to spend on television advertising and get out the vote efforts than does incumbent Cuomo, who has $30 million in his campaign account.  She’s instead employing a grassroots effort. 

“We’ve got thousands of volunteers across the state,” Nixon said. “And we’re mobilizing our army.”

Nixon was in Albany to speak on education policy before voters at a church in one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods. She told the audience of around 200 people that if she’s elected governor, she would end what she says is the “criminalizing” of some children, by stopping school suspensions for minor infractions for children from kindergarten to third grade, and prohibiting school-based arrests of students.

“What we see is really two systems of education. One in which wealthy white children are given every advantage to succeed, and the assumption is they will be going on to college,” she said. “And in our majority-black and brown schools, we have too many kids fed into the school-to-prisons pipeline.” 

Nixon also advocates more spending on public schools, and she says she’d fully fund pre-kindergarten programs.

The underdog candidate, who describes the race as a “David and Goliath” fight, won’t say whether she might support Cuomo if he’s successful in the September 13 primary, saying that she intends to win. But she did say, in answer to a question from a reporter, that Cuomo is a better choice than the Republican in the race, Marc Molinaro.

“I don’t think that Governor Cuomo has been a good governor, because he has largely been someone who talks like a Democrat but governs like a Republican,” said Nixon. “I think having someone who talks like a Republican and governs like a Republican, would be a step down.”

Cuomo, meanwhile, has not been idle. He awarded $10 million in state funds to the village of Owego, in the Southern Tier, to help spruce up its downtown. And he urged the legislature to address what’s known as the double jeopardy loophole – a provision in New York law that could prohibit New York state prosecutors from pursuing a potential criminal case against President Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, now that Cohen has pleaded guilty to federal crimes.

“I believe the state of New York should immediately pass a bill that says even if the president pardons someone, they can still be prosecuted in the state of New York,” Cuomo said. “You can't pardon someone just because they're going to testify against you, and we won't let them get away with it in the state of New York.”

Nixon agrees with the measure to close the double jeopardy loophole. 

New York’s largest state worker union, the Public Employees Federation, chose Thursday to announce its endorsement of Cuomo in the race, citing the governor’s actions to protect New York’s unions against effects of the Supreme Court’s Janus decision. That ruling weakens unions’ ability to collect fees from non-members. In 2014, the union backed Cuomo’s primary opponent, Zephyr Teachout. Also, the governor signed a bill to protect pets that are abandoned when a renter is evicted from their home.

Karen has covered state government and politics for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 New York and Connecticut stations, since 1990. She is also a regular contributor to the statewide public television program about New York State government, New York Now. She appears on the reporter’s roundtable segment, and interviews newsmakers.