After days of political hardball by her incumbent rival, Cynthia Nixon received the hearty endorsement of some of New York’s most progressive voters Saturday, as the Working Families Party threw its support behind her insurgent, and uphill, primary challenge to Gov.
But the vote was both a milestone in Nixon’s nascent campaign to become the Democratic nominee for governor and a confirmation of a deepening philosophical and political fissure in New York’s liberal electorate.
Cuomo, a Democrat with purported presidential ambitions, has governed as a centrist during much of his seven-plus years in office. Nixon, an actress and education activist, has actively courted the left flank of the Democratic Party, which Working Families members often represent, too.
On Saturday, the Working Families’ state committee, fired up by opposition to President Donald Trump and what it called “corporate Democrats,” embraced Nixon’s progressive promises — a single-payer health plan, marijuana legalization and ending corruption and big money in politics — and her determination to campaign on those issues.
“If we want change, it’s on us,” Nixon told the crowd after the party’s representatives endorsed her, with more than 90 percent of the vote. “We have to make it happen.”
The party’s decision came after a frantic set of developments Friday. Two of Cuomo’s allies in the labor movement sought to stymie the Working Families Party by withdrawing from the organization, while the governor was said to have suggested withholding money from grass-roots community groups that have endorsed Nixon. Cuomo’s allies denied the governor had made this threat.
The public relations offensive continued Saturday as several labor leaders and groups, including some who had been closely involved with the Working Families in the past, continued to criticize the party, in one case calling their leaders “lifestyle progressives” who had strayed from “their trade union roots.”
Speaking to the party faithful, the party’s state director, Bill Lipton, seemed to confirm that the loss of labor backing — including the departure on Friday of two powerful unions representing communication and building workers — had been traumatizing.
“This has been a rough week for the WFP,” Lipton told the crowd Saturday afternoon at the Albany Hilton.
Another leader, Karen Scharff, the party’s co-chairwoman, expressed “the greatest respect” for the two unions that had dropped out Friday — Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union and Communications Workers of America District 1.
“It saddens me to see them step away at this moment,” Scharff said, adding, “I’m confident that we will work together in the future.”
But it was also apparent that the tactics of Cuomo — who had a fraught relationship with the party, dating to his ultimately successful struggle in 2014 to get its nomination — and his allies had seemingly only hardened the consensus around Nixon.
“To endorse Cynthia Nixon is a very, very brave thing to do,” said Zephyr Teachout, who herself ran a spirited primary challenge to Cuomo in 2014, and is now working with Nixon’s campaign, adding that the governor’s actions to undermine the Working Families Party in recent days had been “horrifying.”
“Behind every bully,” she said, “there’s a coward.”
On Friday evening, after the union pullout, Cuomo’s campaign had said he would not seek the endorsement or the formal nomination of the Working Families Party, which will be finalized at its convention next month.
And after the party’s vote, Abbey Fashouer, a spokeswoman for Cuomo, defended the governor’s record — citing an increase in the minimum wage, a paid family leave program and billions in funding for education.
“The schism between the progressive unions who founded the WFP and some of its member organizations is unfortunate,” Fashouer said. “But in that divide the governor stands with the unions who have left the WFP.”
A small cadre of party members had argued that the party should wait until their convention next month to endorse Nixon, with some warning that a Nixon candidacy, and a general election ballot line, could siphon votes from Cuomo in November and help a Republican candidate.
“We are deeply, deeply concerned about creating a spoiling situation,” said Beverly Brakeman, an official with UAW Region 9A, which represents autoworkers and others in New England and New York City.
But those sentiments were drowned out by pro-Nixon supporters like Andrew Falk, a state committee member from Putnam County. “When the WFP is under attack, what do we do?” Falk said. “Stand up, fight back.”
In early polls, Nixon — who began her campaign in mid-March — trails Cuomo by hefty margins among Democratic voters. Still, on Saturday, surrounded by fans, she seemed confident that she could compete.
“Thank you getting my back, and just know I’ve always got yours,” she said, adding, “Let’s win this thing.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.