Cynthia Nixon Sees Her Progressive Influence in Cuomo's 2019 Agenda

Former gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon took some credit for pushing New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to the left on issues like reproductive rights and legalizing marijuana.
December 18, 2018, 5:30pm
Cynthia Nixon delivers a concession speech at her September results party
Jose Alvarado for Broadly

Months after Cynthia Nixon lost her primary challenge to sitting New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, the so-called "Cynthia Effect"—a term coined by Nixon's supporters to describe Cuomo's apparent inching to the left as a result of her candidacy—may still be at work.

Cuomo rolled out his 2019 agenda on Monday, announcing that, in his next term, he would focus on progressive causes like legalizing marijuana, banning corporate campaign contributions, and codifying Roe v. Wade into New York state law—central tenets of Nixon's bid for office earlier this year, which Cuomo had previously waffled on or been explicitly opposed to.


"Some people ask me: was it worth it?" Nixon wrote on Twitter. "Yes," she continued, sharing a bulleted list of items on Cuomo's agenda. "Here's why."

One of Cuomo's biggest flips since Nixon's insurgent campaign has been on legalizing the recreational use of marijuana in New York, which he'd long been firmly opposed to. A little more than a year ago, in February 2017, Cuomo had said he was "unconvinced on recreational marijuana" and termed it a "gateway drug."

But when competing with the unabashedly pro-legalization Nixon for reelection, Cuomo changed his tune: "The situation on marijuana is changing,” Cuomo told reporters in July.

“Now you have to answer specifics. Who sells it? Where do they sell it? What quantity can you sell? That, to me, the devil’s in the details. And to come up with a full program, that’s what we have to answer.”

During her campaign Nixon also criticized Cuomo for kicking the can down the road on abortion protections, accusing him of empowering the Independent Democratic Caucus and letting the Reproductive Health Act—which would enshrine abortion rights into law—to languish in the state legislature.

“He had two terms to get this legislation through and he never made it a priority,” Lauren Hitt, a spokeswoman for the Nixon campaign, told Broadly in July. “Now, in an election year when this is a hot topic, he’s trying to present himself as a champion of women’s rights. The IDC was always his priority, and it always took precedence over what women needed.”


But on these and other issues, Cuomo said he's ready to push full steam ahead.

"Now is the time to make these changes, there are no more excuses, my friends," Cuomo told the crowd at the Monday press event where he announced his agenda. "Now is the time to stand up and lead."

Cuomo's office did not immediately respond to Broadly's request for comment.

Though the "Cynthia Effect" may be specific to Nixon, the general phenomenon of primary challengers pushing not just individual incumbents but the entire Democratic Party to the left is not.

Such is a goal of the Justice Democrats, which, following incoming New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's historic primary upset and general election victory, unveiled an initiative to continue primarying conservative-leaning Democrats like the one Ocasio-Cortez unseated in June.

“All Americans know money in politics is a huge problem, but, unfortunately, the way that we fix it is by demanding that our incumbents give it up or by running fierce campaigns ourselves,” Ocasio-Cortez said during a press call last month. “That’s really what we need to do to save this country. That’s just what it is.”

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The point, Ocasio-Cortez has said, is to win. But still, short of that, candidates who ran and lost in this year's midterm have seen how losing elections doesn't always mean outright failure.

At her joint results party in September, Nixon congratulated the progressives who, that night, had successfully unseated nearly every member of the IDC, and spoke of a future where someone else would be standing in her place, making a victory speech instead.

"To all the young women, to all the queer people: You will be standing here when it's your turn," Nixon said at the time. "You will win."