When I sit down with Cynthia Nixon, I am struck how normal she seems. Maybe it’s because throughout our interview, she’s chomping away at Smartfood white cheddar popcorn and mini-pretzels, relaxed and un-self-conscious without seeming blasé, or maybe it’s because I literally went to high school with her oldest son so I can’t help but envision her as the cool mom of some old childhood friend. (I didn’t know her son, who was a couple years behind me at the New York City public school we both attended.) But regardless, her energy puts me at ease, makes me feel like I'm talking to somebody I already know, and that's an achievement for a television star turned activist gubernatorial candidate for the state of New York.
A decade after Nixon's iconic role as Miranda on Sex and the City came to a close, she's become another kind of star, one of the most prominent of the leftists running to push establishment Democrats out of office. Though she's polling well below incumbent Andrew Cuomo, you should be taking her bid for governor very seriously. No matter the results of Thursday’s primary election, Nixon’s battle against two-term Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo has, to quote the Atlantic, him “scrambling to the left” on issues ranging from voting rights for felons to marijuana legalization to taxing plastic bags. (Full disclosure: I donated $4.20 to her campaign.) The race been particularly embittered, with Nixon centering her campaign platform on Cuomo’s corruption and his failure to fix the very broken New York City subway system. Over the weekend, the New York Times editorial board—who managed to endorse Cuomo while singing Nixon's praises—called for the governor to apologize to Nixon after his cronies sent out a mailer falsely accusing her of anti-semitism. Whatever happens on Thursday, Nixon has already made her mark on the state.
In our conversation, Nixon spoke about the future of Democratic politics, her status as an outsider and a celebrity, and what it really means to be a Miranda:
VICE: Why is it important for New Yorkers to elect a governor who is an outsider?
Cynthia Nixon: If we had an insider who was really talking about foundational change, then I think that would be a fine person to elect, but we don’t. I do think it's important to not take corporate contributions. I'm not taking any, but particularly from certain industries— real estate, fossil fuels, and hedge funds. These are big corporations that are determining New York policy. If you want someone to clean up the corrupt culture of Albany, you can’t have somebody who's been there—like Andrew Cuomo—for more than a decade, who's been a part of it and profited off it. They are not a free agent. They are not independent.
What don't New Yorkers understand about the real Andrew Cuomo, as you have come to know him?
He's a really good politician. He’s really good at grabbing headlines. He’s really good and, um, creative, would be the polite word, about raising money. But he is not actually very good at governing. He's not very good at addressing the hard problems. His economic development has not created many jobs and it is rife with corruption. If you look at all the disasters that have happened on his watch, like the the state of emergency in the New York City subway, the crumbling of our CUNY and SUNY system, the ever expanding educational inequality. Not a very pithy answer, but there’s an enormous difference between Andrew Cuomo’s rhetoric and Andrew Cuomo’s actions. He really does talk like a Democrat, particularly lately, but he really governs like a Republican.
How worried or hopeful are you about the future of American politics? How do you think Trump changed the political game for everyone?
I am both very worried and very hopeful. I think that Donald Trump has mostly changed American politics in ways that are worse. But the upside is how much he’s woken people up and how much he's gotten people to understand that if they're not involved, things aren't going to be just fine. Things could actually be disastrous. I was a big Obama person from the beginning, and I would certainly give a lot if he was still our president, or if Hillary was our president. What is often best for our democracy is having someone terrible as our president, to motivate people. Rather than like, daddy's going to take care of it or mommy's going to take care of it. I think that was the way that a lot of us felt during the Obama years. You know, it's Obama, he'll handle it and maybe we'll protest them about this particular issue. But basically he's our guy. You know, he's minding the store.
I'm horrified by all the cuts to healthcare, to education. When you look at all of the environmental protections the Obama administration put in place, how they're being ripped off. The attack on reproductive rights. All the images are terrifying, but I am very hopeful when I look at the Black Lives Matter movement, when I look at the Occupy Wall Street movement, when I look at the Parkland kids and the young people, particularly of color, who have been fighting against gun violence for so long.
I think that the level of cynicism and, and vitriol and hate with which Donald Trump rules us is causing a revolution that’s very important.
You told US Weekly, “I didn’t consider myself a Miranda when the show started, but I do now.” What does it mean to be a Miranda? What triggered your change of heart?
When I started playing Miranda I was, like, 31. I was in a long-term, committed relationship. I had hardly ever been single in my life since I was 14. I was a mother already, and had always planned to be a mother. I wasn't somebody who was very into spending lots of money or dating. I didn't think of myself as a particularly confrontational or combative person. I think in the six years that the show was on, I learned to be much more outspoken. And also I think Miranda changed too, like she became a mother and she got married and she did all these things that brought her closer to me. When I was younger I had a very powerful mother. She might not have been powerful in the world, but she was a powerful person. I was sort of the counterbalance to that. I was quieter—well, not quiet—but I was less confrontational. What happened essentially is, I was a daughter for a long time and then I became a mother and I became my own mother. I became more comfortable with the idea of my own opinion mattering and being able to say it out loud.
Thank you for indulging the Sex and the City question. I’m sure that’s just like… your life.
Back to politics! What does it mean, for you, to be a Democratic Socialist?
It means that your commitment to combating inequality is not an aesthetic one, it’s a moral one. It's not shades of gray. It's actually black and white—you know, Democratic Socialists don't mince words and they know which side they're on, and that there are two sides, and that in order to bring power to people who don't have it, it means you have to take on the people who have the power and who are reluctant to relinquish it.
I know that people have compared you to Trump by virtue of the fact that you were both in show business before being in politics, but obviously Donald Trump used to donate money to Cuomo. Do you see any similarities between Cuomo and Trump?
I see so many. These are men who were brought by their powerful fathers into the family business, who were handed their careers, or at least their first jobs. These are men who have turned a blind eye to sexual harassment and their own administrations. These are men who fight with the free press when the free press is asking perfectly appropriate questions. These are men whose administrations are rife with corruption, whose top aides and campaign managers are on their way to jail. These are men who, when investigations were made into the corruption in their own administrations, they, in the case of Donald Trump, tried to shut down those investigations, or in the case of Andrew Cuomo, actually succeeded in shutting down those investigations.
And Andrew Cuomo makes a lot of how he's the best person to oppose Trump. We have a corrupt corporate Republican in the White House. I don't think the best person to oppose him is a corrupt corporate Democrat, which is what he is. I think we need somebody who is not just the same animal dressed in a different color. I think we need someone who is diametrically opposed to Donald Trump, not just rhetorically but actually in what her values are.
I know that you've endorsed Julia Salazar. What do you make of the recent controversy over her misleading claims about her immigrant history and her past as a community organizer?
For me the number one thing about Julia Salazar is how unlike [her opponent] Senator Dilan, she's really going to fight for tenants, and he has taken so much a real estate money. Obviously, there are questions there still to be answered, but I think at the bottom of the day, I think she's a young person who grew up very conservatively and has had a real change of heart, and I think she would be a much better state senator for her district than Dilan who is in the pocket of real estate—and there’s no more pressing issue in New York City or New York State than the lack of affordable housing and the superpower of landlords and developers.
How do you think you and other women candidates are redefining what "women's issues" are? How does it differ from what someone like Governor Cuomo frames as a women's issue?
I think that Governor Cuomo, who is a remarkably awkward person, is never more awkward than when he’s trying to say the right thing about women. Women's issues are the issues you would of course naturally think of like pay equity and like sexual harassment protections and reproductive justice, but it's hard to think of a issue that’s a man's issue that's not also a woman's issue. Racial justice is a women’s issue. Mass incarceration is a women’s issue. Affordable housing is a woman's issue. Education is a woman's issue. The MTA is a woman's issue. We're women, yes. But we’re people first.
Major players like Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton have endorsed Cuomo. What do you think that says about the current state of Democratic politics?
I think we have a real split within the Democratic Party, and it's partly generational. I mean, not that I'm so young, but and there is this tug of war that like never mind what any of us are doing, Trump is terrible and we have to band together no matter what. Democratic primaries are really important and I think that they can't just keep shutting down these younger, more diverse, more progressive voices. We are actually the future of the party.
And they’re the past?
I wouldn't, I—
You don’t want to say that?
I don't want to say that because there is a place for all of us, but not if they keep trying to shut us down.
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