"Sex and the City" star Cynthia Nixon says she has a simple response to voters who question whether she has the experience necessary to run for governor of New York.
"You know me as an actor," she told The Associated Press in an interview this past week. "But I'm so much more than an actor."
So far in her fledgling Democratic primary campaign against two-term incumbent Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Nixon has set out to prove just that. She has relentlessly attacked Cuomo as a political bully who has been unable to fix state government corruption, inequalities in education and New York City's beleaguered subways. She's also questioned Cuomo's economic development programs and criticized the newly approved state budget as another product of Albany's backroom deals.
"Cuomo has been in office eight years. Hardly anything has changed," Nixon said. "If we want change, people like me, who have never run for office before, have to get involved."
But Nixon acknowledges her from-the-left challenge to Cuomo will be an uphill fight. Cuomo, the son of the late Gov. Mario Cuomo, is a career politician and possible 2020 presidential contender with a war chest of more than $30 million. A Siena College poll released just as Nixon formally kicked off her campaign two weeks ago showed Cuomo leading her 66 percent to 19 percent among registered Democrats.
Cuomo also beat out Nixon in a survey released last week by Quinnipiac University that asked New York City voters which candidate would be a better governor for the city. Fifty-eight percent picked Cuomo; 22 percent chose Nixon.
"I wouldn't say I'm daunted necessarily," she said of the race. "It's a real challenge and I don't try to minimize that in my own mind."
Nixon's run so far seems aimed primarily at liberals who have long viewed Cuomo as too moderate. Four years ago, Cuomo faced a surprisingly tough primary challenge from liberal law professor Zephyr Teachout. This time, he'll be up against an opponent with a much more recognizable name.
The 51-year-old New York native and Grammy, Emmy and Tony winner — best known for her portrayal of lawyer Miranda Hobbes on "Sex and the City" — has never held elected office. But she is a longtime political activist who has lobbied for better education funding, marriage equality and women's rights, and she has campaigned for such politicians as President Barack Obama and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. If elected, the mother of three would be the state's first openly gay governor.
Nixon said she had been asked about running for office before but always said no — until the election of Republican President Donald Trump convinced her that she had to do more. She cites Eleanor Roosevelt as a political hero.
"The thing about Eleanor is that she worked so hard and so long to address inequality," she said. "I'm very inspired by her. I think of her as such a brave person."
For his part, Cuomo has pointed to achievements including legalizing gay marriage, tightening gun restrictions, raising the minimum wage, banning fracking and increasing investments in education — all while working to lower taxes and jumpstart the upstate economy. Following Nixon's entry in the race last month, Cuomo's campaign released a statement saying "It's great that we live in a democracy where anyone can run for office."
His union allies, meanwhile, have been more pointed. Labor leader Hector Figueroa said voters will choose the candidate who can best serve New Yorkers, "not who can seize the most headlines by waging personal attacks." Transit Workers Union International President John Samuelson called Nixon a "phony progressive" and a "wealthy celebrity completely disconnected from the very workers she claims to care about."
Nixon says she is not backing down from any fights. And in her campaign appearances so far, she's dinged Cuomo for the corruption conviction of his longtime aide, Joseph Percoco, and the fact that a package of new sexual harassment measures in the new state budget was hammered out entirely by men, including one accused of sexual harassment.
She dismissed speculation that she may be too liberal to win and noted that registered Democrats outnumber Republicans in New York by more than 2 to 1. She said such issues as campaign finance reform, strong schools and efforts to address corruption appeal to voters across the political spectrum.
"They've really lost faith in New York government," Nixon said of the voters she's met at her campaign stops. "I've had a lot of people walk up to me, shaking my hand... and also saying how angry they are at Gov. Cuomo."
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