The Democratic gubernatorial campaign came to Valley Stream last week with an appearance by underdog candidate Cynthia Nixon at Sip This on Aug. 9. The actress-turned-activist, best known for her role in television’s “Sex and the City,” spoke to a crowd of roughly 100, who turned out to hear her pitch and to pepper her with questions.
“We don’t usually do political events,” Sip This co-owner Stephanie Pontillo said, adding that it was unclear initially whether interest was in the candidate or the celebrity.
In June, Nixon failed to garner the 25 percent of delegates to the Democratic state convention needed to force a primary election faceoff with incumbent Gov. Andrew Cuomo. But after collecting more than 65,000 signatures on a petition to place her name in nomination — four times more than the requisite amount — she will be on the Sept. 13 ballot.
According to a recent Siena College poll, Nixon has the support of 30 percent of likely Democratic voters to Cuomo’s 60 percent, with the remainder undecided. The two will face each other in
a debate at Hof-
stra University on
Nixon, 52, began by praising her mother, whom she referred to as her inspiration and her hero. She described the positive impact of growing up in a single-parent home led by a woman. “I’m here because of my mom,” she said simply. She described a household that faced economic challenges, and recounted how her mother had once taken on a landlord who had cheated the family.
Nixon has long been an advocate of public education, serving as a spokeswoman for the Alliance for Quality Education. She spoke of her own experience as a product of public schools, and contrasted that with the current challenges resulting from the 2 percent property tax-levy cap limiting the amount of funding available to local districts.
“When budgets are cut, our children are always on the chopping block,” the mother of two said. She described how cuts affected programs ranging from the arts to special education, including the loss of key staff. “We’ve lost two-thirds
of our paraprofessionals” due to cuts,
Highlighting the gulf separating rich and poor school communities, Nixon said, “The top 100 school districts spend $10,000 more per pupil than the bottom 100. New York is the most unequal state in the nation.”
Nixon went on to say that Cuomo was, in her view, indistinguishable from Republican politicians. “He acts like a Republican, not just politically, but fiscally,” she said. Cuomo’s 2 percent austerity budget was “balanced on the back of the most vulnerable.”
Nixon said her campaign accepts no corporate donations, but instead relies almost entirely on small donors. She accused Cuomo of accepting contributions from big out-of-state corporate donors, including the Koch brothers, who are known as conservative Republican stalwarts and backers
of the Tea Party movement.
“We raised more in small-dollar donations on the first day of my campaign than Gov. Cuomo has in seven years,” she said. “This is the moment for progressive challengers, the time to take on entrenched leaders who don’t have the interests of the common people.”
The candidate laid out a plan of action that included funding upgrades to the New York City subway system and passing universal rent regulation throughout the state.
Many Long Islanders depend on various components of the MTA to get to work, she said, and the current state of public transportation in the region is stifling growth. “If we let the subway die, New York dies,” she said. Some of the MTA’s signature projects, such as the East Side Access, due for completion at the end of 2022, are years behind schedule and billions of dollars over budget.
Nixon also pledged to extend rent regulation throughout the state. Under the current 421-a program set to expire next year, landlords can claim tax abatements if at least 20 percent of their total units are classified as affordable. In some cases, landlords have claimed such breaks on luxury properties containing no affordable units, critics say.
“By extending universal rent regulation beyond the eight counties that have it now, we can generate $7 billion,” Nixon said. “And by using renewable energy sources, we will create 100,000 new jobs.”
Nixon also pledged to sign legislation legalizing the recreational use of marijuana. She described how current enforcement efforts unfairly target minorities. “Eighty percent of marijuana arrests are people of color,” she said. She went on to promise that the profits from a state tax would be equitably distributed.
Next, Nixon vowed to take on the twin issues of speedy trials and cash bail — the practice of allowing those charged with a crime to be bailed at lower amounts if they pay cash. Critics of the system charge that it favors wealthy defendants, such as movie mogul Harvey Weinstein. Though accused of more than 70 acts of sexual harassment and abuse, Weinstein was released on $1 million cash bond.
Nixon contrasted Weinstein’s experience with that of Kalief Browder, a 16-year-old at the time of his arrest in 2010. Browder, who had one previous arest, was accused of stealing a backpack and spent three years on Rikers Island awaiting trial, including two years in solitary confinement. Though eventually freed, the experience so scarred him that he committed suicide in 2015.
“We need one system of justice,” Nix-
After presenting her views, Nixon opened the floor to questions, which ranged from concerns about immigration to the proposed hockey arena at Belmont Park in Elmont.
Nixon said she wants to “make New York a real sanctuary state.” She said she would work to pass the New York DREAM Act, which came before the Assembly again in February. The measure has been included in Cuomo’s budget every year since 2015, but never passed.
Nixon also promised to clear the way for immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses without restrictions and to end the practice where Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents use driver’s licenses to target immigrants.
As to sports complexes on public land, Nixon said she would need to take each project on a case-by case basis. Nevertheless, she did not believe such projects represented engines of economic growth, because they produce mostly low-wage jobs and often receive property tax abatements, effectively reducing revenue received by local school districts.
“This is a terrible time in our country’s history,” Nixon concluded. “We have an opportunity to pass a progressive agenda that will benefit all New Yorkers. New York has always been the capital of progressive resistance in this country. It’s time to reclaim the crown,” she said.