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Six Minutes With Cynthia Nixon, Candidate For Governor

Cynthia Nixon marches in the West Indian Day Parade last week
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Cynthia Nixon marches in the West Indian Day Parade last week Curtis Means/ACE Pictures/Shutterstock

Just two days before the Democratic primary, the latest poll shows Cynthia Nixon trailing Governor Andrew Cuomo by 41 percentage points. But Congressman Joe Crowley had a 36-point lead over Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez two weeks before his defeat, and Cuomo is taking no chances—according to Politico, the governor is on track to spend $20 million more on this campaign than he did in 2014.

The governor's kitchen sink approach has also led to some mistakes—or outright misconduct—since that final poll was conducted. Last week Cuomo held a potentially life-endangering photo-op on top of the new bridge that's named after his father, and the state Democratic party sent out a mailer designed to frighten Orthodox voters into voting for him that included false statements about Nixon's record on yeshivas and her support for the boycott, divest, and sanctions movement. Cuomo denied any knowledge of the mailer, and compared criticism of the bridge event to the flat-earth movement.

"What we've seen, both in the debate and with this recent mailer spreading lies and fear-mongering, is that neither the New York State Democratic Party nor Governor Cuomo—who called me a corporate democrat—they don't seem to have any compunction about lying," Nixon told Gothamist on Tuesday morning. "They will do or say anything to win in a way that I will not."

Gothamist was able to snag six and a half minutes with the candidate after her appearance on The Brian Lerher Show this morning to ask her some of our questions. (We have also asked the Governor's campaign for at least six minutes of his time.)

The executive office spends billions of dollars on economic development all over the state. Your plan calls for more oversight, you want a database of projects so that the public can look at them—but how exactly would you spend that $3 billion of economic development, that the governor has spent on the Buffalo Billion or the—

So yes, I want a database of deals so that the public has an ability to go and peruse those deals, but I think more important than that, I want to restore power to the comptroller to sign off on deals over $1 million. Look, the way we have done economic development is top-down, it's gone into the pockets of his biggest donors. What I would do is invest in infrastructure. I would invest in transportation. I would invest in roads and sewers.

I would also invest in human service jobs and in increasing subsidies to childcare, and making living wages for home health aides. If you look at human service jobs—people who deal with humans, who run after school programs and senior citizens and rape crisis centers. These are jobs that are overwhelmingly held by women and people of color and immigrants. We have to understand this is who our new working class is, and we have to prioritize their jobs as much as we have to prioritize building factories.

But also, we need better goals that we actually adhere to in terms of investing in minority- and women-owned businesses. The governor has goals, he doesn't meet them, and he has enormous carve-outs for those companies that are his biggest donors. Not only do we need to invest in minority and women-owned businesses, we need to invest in those communities, but they're much better at job creation then handing over hundreds of millions of dollars to a developer and having him build a building in which maybe something good happens, maybe not.

You've repeatedly cited your background as an education activist as a reason for running, but your wide-ranging education platform makes no mention of yeshivas. Do`you believe that ultra-Orthodox schools should be required to offer students more secular instruction than they're providing? Do you support additional oversight for the schools?

I think that every student graduating from New York—whether you go to a private institution, a religious institution, a public institution—should have basic knowledge in math and in science and in social studies and in English and history. Yes, I think there need to be standards for what any New York young person graduating from school should know.

You'd handle the investigation into yeshivas differently than Governor Cuomo has?

I think there need to be standards for what young people who are graduating from high school and beyond know, yeah.

Other than the money, what do you think is the most challenging aspect of running against an incumbent like Andrew Cuomo?

I think the money that he has [laughs]. I think the endorsements that he has, but most especially, what we've seen, look: I've attacked Governor Cuomo on a lot of things that I think are perfectly legitimate and perfectly true. I have never attacked him on anything that was factually incorrect. What we've seen, both in the debate and with this recent mailer spreading lies and fear-mongering, is that neither the New York State Democratic Party nor Governor Cuomo—who called me a corporate Democrat—they don't seem to have any compunction about lying. Which is something that I have not done. So that's one of the challenges as well: they will do or say anything to win in a way that I will not.

Speaking of the governor essentially controlling the State Democratic Committee, is that type of control something you would maintain as governor? How would you run the committee?

The way Andrew Cuomo runs the State Democratic Party now is fully in service of him. I think it's reprehensible. And I think that it is a time when we need to be spending our dollars in New York ensuring that every Democrat who is running has a chance of winning through funding from these very deep coffers. Whether you're talking about people running for Congress, whether you're talking about people for state Senate or any Democratic candidate.

He has a really poor record of this—he's never fought for Democrats. He has always allowed Republicans to use his image in their literature. He's never funded Democratic campaigns, much less campaigned personally for them. And even running on the Independence line as he has, he's siphoning off votes because the Independence Party line has a lot of Republicans running on it. People who are voting for Andrew Cuomo on that line are probably just going to run down that line, so he's stealing votes from other Democrats, sometimes in tight races that we need for Congress.

What's the most substantive difference between your plan to fix the subways and the governor's plan?

That I will fight for it and I have a plan to fund it, rather than keeping it at arm's distance and saying, "Yes, this is important, we really must do this one of these days."

The primary is Thursday, September 13th; find out where you can vote at the WNYC-Gothamist midterms hub.

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