How a School Battle on the UWS Sparked Cynthia Nixon’s Bid for Governor

Cynthia Nixon outside PS 75 on Friday.

By Carol Tannenhauser

Cynthia Nixon smiled, joked with kids and shook hands outside the entrance to P.S. 75 on West 95th Street during dropoff on Friday morning, while parents gathered around and snapped photos.

“That lady’s running for governor of New York,” a father told his wide-eyed daughter — “and she’s a movie star!”

For Nixon, who is running for governor, it was more of a homecoming than a campaign stop. She may have made her name as an actress, but Nixon became an activist and political leader at schools like this one, fighting for Upper West Side kids.

“I lived in the neighborhood until I was seven,” she recalled. “I went here for kindergarten, first grade and part of second.”

Nixon and Robert Jackson, a Democrat who is running for state Senate.

“My activism began with a battle at the school my daughter was attending,” Nixon continued. “I started fighting the city education cuts, but very soon I was fighting for a statewide solution. Governor Pataki and Governor Cuomo have given the first and second biggest cuts to education we’ve ever had, and $4.2 billion is still owed the city from a lawsuit, which Governor Cuomo refuses to acknowledge.”

Nixon’s daughter, Samantha, started kindergarten on September 10, 2001, at P.S. 163, on West 97th Street, between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues. The school was overcrowded and underfunded, according to Mia Galison, whose daughter, Elodie, was in Samantha’s class.

“Cynthia could have had her kid in any private school that she wanted to and she opted to have her at P.S.163, with no nurse, no art, no library, no playground,” Galison chuckled, ruefully, in a telephone interview on Wednesday. “I think, at that time, they had added a fifth grade to 163, so they bumped the kindergartners out to two trailers in the backyard. There was a gate, but no lock or guard; anyone could walk in off the street. The second day of kindergarten was 9/11, so that added to our general sense of insecurity. There was one teacher and a some-time aide for more than 30 five-and-six- year-old children.”

“Cynthia changed my thinking about activism,” Galison continued. “A lot of us were thinking about day-to-day stuff, like how to get a guard or move the kids from one place to another. She was becoming focused on macro issues, like inequality in the public school funding system. She was definitely the premier person who took action on that front.”

In May, 2002, Nixon, with a group of other parents, blockaded City Hall to protest threatened cuts to the city’s education budget — an action that led to her highly publicized arrest for disorderly conduct. People magazine reported at the time that “the protest [was] over Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposal to slice $350 million out of the Board of Education’s budget [that] year. After witnessing firsthand the results of financial cuts at her daughter’s school, said Newsday, Nixon began working with a statewide organization called the Alliance for Quality Education (AQE).” At the time, the New York director of AQE and organizer of the protest was Christine Marinoni, who would later become Nixon’s wife. Nixon’s path from that battle to the governor’s race is detailed in this Village Voice story.

The primary for governor and other races is on Thursday, Sept 13.

HISTORY, NEWS, SCHOOLS | 24 comments | permalink
    1. Bruce E. Bernstein says:

      I’m sorry i missed Cynthia and Robert Jackson… I walk past PS 75 on my way to work every day.

      Cynthia and Robert are two of the best political activists in the city, and both are real supporters and friends of public education.

    2. Bruce E. Bernstein says:

      i was just thinking how good an article this is… and then i noticed… of course it was written by Carol Tannenhauser!

    3. Juan says:

      I admire Ms. Nixon’s passion and agree in theory with many of her policy goals. But she is living in fantasy land. She has proposed doubling the budget and does not have concrete plans for funding much of this. And even if she did, good luck getting those plans through the legislature, particularly in NY.

      I am not president of Cuomo’s fan club, but he is clearly the better alternative here.

    4. mike says:

      With all due respect, we spend too much on education, it’s just the money is being ineffectively used. NYC Department of Education’s budget $33k per pupil per year. Catholic schools charge $6K per pupil per year. What gives?

      • Deb says:

        Perhaps because Jesus saves?

      • Joey says:

        Catholic schools are subsidized by contributions and public school teachers are paid more.

      • Eagle Eye says:

        Mike, Where did you get the $33k figure from? I found this on Politico:
        The city is planning to spend an average of $17,500 per student in the coming school year, according to funding data released Friday…
        The total funding allocated to individual schools — excluding central costs such as building maintenance and central staff — will be $16.8 billion, according to the data. And the projected district enrollment is 962,128 students.
        If central costs — $6.4 billion — are included, the total funding allocated to individual schools would be $23.3 billion and the city would be spending $24,173.06 per student.

        Let’s make sure our facts are correct!

    5. Barbara says:

      She’s proved herself an asset in the fights for education and transportation especially.

    6. JS says:

      Interesting article!

    7. NPK says:

      Being an activist as a parent is not enough experience to take on being the governor of the state just size and complexity of New York. I would have respected a run for city council from Cynthia Nixon but for governor? As a “ movie star“ can she only think in terms of the highest office in the state? She puts forth many progressive ideas with no idea how to fund or implement them. And calling for the tax incentive for film and television to be canceled would be a disaster for the state. Does she not realize That without the tax incentive no one would’ve ever heard of her?

    8. Angry Boomer says:

      As Molinari pulls closer to Cuomo, Ms. Nixon is playing right out of the Sanders playbook that gave us Trump. She has zero chance of winning the primary, but an excellent chance of being the spoiler. Just imagine NY in the hands of a Republican. You think Nixon will throw her support behind Cuomo to insure victory? Ask her. With that ego I sincerely doubt it.

      • Glen says:

        If it were not for Trump Molinari would stand a chance. NY has elected Republican governors, most recently Pataki for 3 terms. Trump is going to pull down the remains of the GOP in the Northeast this year (except for the Menendez NJ senate seat which I predict will flip to Red).

    9. NotForMe says:

      Not for me sorry I can’t trust actors.

    10. Rodger Lodger says:

      Did you read Jim Dwyer’s take on Nixon’s budget plans in the Times the other day? She’s as sensical as Trump.

    11. BillyNYC says:

      We have no interest in Cynthia Nixon… Governor Como and his experience is doing just fine for the people of New York and we look forward to his announcement to the presidency of United States of America.

    12. Joey says:

      Where did she get that 1950s dress?
      What middle school & high school did her daughter attend?

    13. Kathryn Klein Eddy says:

      Nixon’s daughter did not stay at PS 163. She moved to PS 75, and then again to PS 87.

    14. Noah Gotbaum says:

      Good story. Both she and Robert Jackson actually walk the walk on public education – and so many other issues – and don’t just talk.

    15. Hambone says:

      Mike hit the nail on the head. What is most important is “how” it is spent before you say “how much”. Until you can rectify the cost per pupil and performance, more money to me is a non starter.

      NYC gets $13 BILLION from the lottery alone. Can anyone illustrate the money is spent?


      If you want a security fine…have at it…but ask for another nickel until you fix this godawful education model.

      As an aside I will concede that public schools need to address special needs students whereas private schools do not necessarily need to do so. I would also note though that I’ve seen stats (sorry no you can call me out on this) that public schools have an 11:1 ratio of admin to a private school. Why?

    16. BillyNYC says:

      She’s a loser will never make it on Thursday quite obvious…. need I say more.

    17. Davie says:

      The great thing about election day on the UWS is that you get to see who your true and real neighbors are at your polling place. Those folks you see walking their dogs at 11PM. Sure, you can keep on voting for Cuomo if you like. But I say, Nixon now, Nixon now, Nixon now! She’ll show them how! Nixon, now more than ever! She really does ride the subway! She cares about children! She’s not like you because she’s a nice person! All you wealthy, bitter, crazy/normal liberal rent-controlled apartment living, boring/normal people need to vote for her! Nixon now!

    18. Bruce E. Bernstein says:

      i give “props” to Cynthia Nixon, a well-to-do woman who spends her time advocating for poor, working class, and middle class people.

      She grew up working class, so i guess she hasn’t forgotten where she came from. Good for her.

      I compare her favorably to some of newer West Siders, who seem mainly concerned with clearing all the poor and working class people out of the neighborhood, and making it into the equivalent of a gated community.

    19. Christine says:

      For anyone who cares, she got off the steaming hot subway at 96th Street and walked over to the school. It’s good that she uses mass transit, anyway.