OPINION: New York democrats may be ready for change, but still back Cuomo
There is little doubt that anyone, even Cynthia Nixon, was greatly surprised by the incumbent Andrew Cuomo’s landslide victory in Thursday’s Democratic Primary.
The former star of Sex and the City never really had a chance. Polls showed her trailing behind from the moment she announced. As the race progressed, Cuomo enjoyed the strong support of organized labor, including the 125,000-member District Council 37, the city’s largest public employee union, 1199 SEIU and the AFL-CIO.
In addition to campaign funding, the union members play a powerful role in any city election by working the phones to get out the vote and even driving voters to the polls on election day. In a primary where turnout is normally low, union support is critical.
Nixon, who is remembered as an actress and had not held political office previously, positioned herself as a “progressive.” While this may have won her votes in Manhattan, we doubt that it helped her in Brooklyn or Queens or the rest of the state where registered Democrats stand in the center on many issues.
Cuomo virtually ignored Nixon during his campaign, and focused his significant ad dollars on President Trump, immigration and healthcare. He did make two notable mistakes. One was saying at a campaign stop that “America never was great.” And the other was allowing campaign literature to go out that implied Nixon was anti-Semitic.
The election was called a half hour after the polls closed. Cuomo easily won his third race for the gubernatorial nomination.
Riding on his coattails, Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul beat back a challenge from three-term City Councilman Jumaane Williams. And Letitia James, the current city Public Advocate, defeated two strong opponents in the Attorney General primary.
In what Nixon claimed as a “moral victory,” and others see as a sign of surging Democratic enthusiasm, turnout more than doubled on Thursday from that of 2014, with the biggest surge coming in the city and its suburbs.
In another noteworthy change, New York’s former Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) suffered resounding losses in each of three statewide Democratic primaries. The defeat of the coalition of democrats who oppose the leadership of their party is significant in a state in which incumbents almost never lose.
In Senate District 11, which includes Flushing and College Point, fellow four-term incumbent and former IDC member state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) was narrowly defeated by former city Comptroller John Liu.
Another four-term state Sen. Jose Peralta and former IDC member (D-East Elmhurst) lost to former mayoral aide Jessica Ramos — a win she attributed to the community’s need to reject “turncoat” democrats. With 99 percent of precincts reporting, Ramos enjoyed a 10-percentage point margin.
“The IDC better be dead,” she told reporters.
That remains to be seen. Avella, who is a well-known activist in Northeast Queens may still run in November as an independent. He has never been one to follow the party line.
But that party line could be changing. The victories of young, progressive democrats like Jessica Ramos, John Liu and Julia Salazar should not be overlooked. This election showed the mark of a new political force emerging in Brooklyn, Queens and the rest of New York City.
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