By Carol Tannenhauser
In a sea of Democrats, Janice Warner stood out: tall, quiet, regal. It seemed fitting that she had been an English teacher at the elite Hunter High School, years before, when Cynthia Nixon was a student there.
As Janice Warner waited in the long line outside the synagogue, she remembered Nixon as a teenager.
“She was brilliant,” she said. “And one of the hardest workers I have ever had, even at Hunter. She’s a dear, good, solid person, focused, well read, well researched. What she does is bring to the panel a lot of issues, and she’s making Cuomo have to face them and talk about them.”
Warner, 70, had come to hear her former student speak, now as a candidate for the Democratic nomination for governor of New York State, at a forum sponsored by five local democratic clubs on Sunday night. Congregation B’nai Jeshurun, at 257 West 88th Street, between Broadway and West End Avenue, donated its sanctuary for the event.
Governor Andrew Cuomo, who Nixon will face in the September 13th primary, was invited, but did not attend. Aides said he was “busy helping to win back the house in the midterm elections.”
“Too busy for us,” someone commented.
Also speaking were Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, representing both Governor Cuomo and herself. She will face off in a primary against Jumaane Williams, a New York City Council Member, who was also there, along with a host of other elected officials. But the main draw was Nixon, the Sex & the City star and longtime Upper West Side education activist.
The format of the evening was opening statements by the candidates, followed by questions for each from the audience, delivered by moderator Celeste Katz, senior political reporter for Glamour magazine. First up was Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, a former upstate U.S. representative, who lost her seat in 2012 by 1% because, she said, of her pro-choice stance, which she had stuck to, despite being a devout Catholic in a very conservative district, and having the Church and the Koch brothers working against her.
Hochul, a lawyer who lives in Buffalo, said there were more Democrats in the sanctuary than in the whole congressional district she once represented. She lauded her and the Governor’s achievements, including raising the minimum wage and fighting for paid-family leave. Calling herself “the only woman in state office” she said she has been out there “from Plattsburgh to Montauk, recruiting women to run for office, because we need their voices at the table.”
She finished her opening remarks with a request.
“I have championed causes that each of you believe with all your hearts, and, sometimes, in other parts of the state, it’s tough to do that. I’m a fighter, but my request to all of you here tonight is, let’s not fight each other, because we have an enemy in Washington.”
Her request was denied.
“New York State schools are the second most unequal in the entire country, and that doesn’t reflect who we are or what we believe in,” said Cynthia Nixon, speaking next. “New York is the single most unequal state in terms of wealth and income. The top 1% of New Yorkers earn 45 times what the other 99% earn, combined. That’s not just a mistake. That’s not inadvertent. That’s a choice to slash taxes on corporations and the super rich and slash services and opportunities for everyone else. It’s a choice that we’re used to seeing from Republicans like Donald Trump, but, for the last eight years, it’s a choice that we’ve seen made over and over and over again, by our governor, Andrew Cuomo.”
“I voted for Andrew Cuomo eight years ago because I believed he was what he said he was: a Democrat,” Nixon continued. “In his first year in office, in a back-room deal, he encouraged a group of Democratic senators to caucus and vote with the Republicans, shoring up their control of the state senate, giving them the ability to block almost all of our legislative priorities.”
Nixon is referring to the Independent Democratic Caucus — I.D.C. — a group of eight senators who ran as Democrats, but voted with the Republicans. This April, Cuomo brokered a truce with this renegade faction of the party.
“I hope they’ve gone away for good and we just put the nail in that coffin,” Hochul said. “The Governor and I are working to help local communities find candidates who don’t run a certain way, then sit on the Republican side of the aisle. Let’s end that. It was paralyzing the issues we want to get through.”
Among the priorities she mentioned were: addressing the opioid crisis, criminal justice reform, stronger environmental protections, getting the money out of politics, voting reform, and codifying Roe v. Wade. Nixon listed “housing, education, and jobs” as the top issues facing the state.
Jumaane Williams, who is challenging Hochul in the Lieutenant Governor’s primary, would like to fundamentally change the nature of that role.
“Most people who have been Lieutenant Governor have been the Governor’s Lieutenant Governor,” Williams explained. “I want to be the people’s Lieutenant Governor. I want to be the person that shines a light on issues when no one else will. This is not a knock on anyone, but on what the system has been. We should have someone who is working with the Governor, but also saying ‘the emperor has no clothes’ when that is necessary. I have a record of doing that productively, and that’s what’s needed in 2018. Because everything is not all right in the City or State of New York. Someone has to point out why, and as I travel the state, people are pointing at the Governor for lack of leadership on everything from housing to transportation.”
The sponsoring democratic clubs were: Ansonia Independent Democrats, Broadway Democrats, Community Free Democrats, Park River Independent Democrats, and Three Parks Independent Democrats.