The Case for Endorsing Cynthia Nixon and Jumaane Williams
The Case for Endorsing Cynthia Nixon and Jumaane Williams (And How To Do It Strategically) was a letter Drafted by: Danya Lagos (CBK/Labor), and circulated among New York Democratic Socialists of America members in July 2018.
CoSigners, as of July 23 2018 were:Aaron Eisenberg (SBK), Abi Hassen (CBK), Adrian Mikulak (Lower Manhattan), Alex Leitch (CBK), Alexander McCoy (Bronx / Upper Manhattan), Alex Silva (SBK), Amanda Vender (Queens), Anaka Allen (Lower Manhattan), Arsenia Reilly-Collins (SBK/Labor), Ben Wolcott (CBK), Benjamin Serby (SBK), Cale Brooks (Lower Manhattan), Chloe Wyma (NBK), Courtney Waletzky (CBK), Cea Weaver (CBK), Celeste Hornbach (CBK), Charles Lenchner (NBK), Chris Stevenson (NBK), Dan Cheng (Lower Manhattan), David Robin (NBK), David Segal (CBK), Dan Wilson (Queens), Deborah Meier (Bronx / Upper Manhattan), Devin McManus (CBK), D.J. Waletzky (CBK), Dimitri Akrivos (Queens), Elise Golden (CBK), Eliza Brown (CBK), Emma Saltzberg (CBK), Halsey Hazzard (Lower Manhattan), Honda Wang (CBK), Itzhak Epstein (Bronx / Upper Manhattan), Jake Streich-Kest (CBK), Jamie Tyberg (CBK), Jay Schaffner (Lower Manhattan), Jeremy Cohan (NBK), Jordan Reisman (CBK), Jos Sanchez (CBK), Julia Alekseyeva (CBK), Justine Medina (Queens), Kate O’Connor (CBK), Kayla Santosuosso (SBK), Keith Edwards (Lower Manhattan), Kristin Lee (SBK), Leanna Ballester (CBK), Leen Mahmood (Lower Manhattan), Luke Elliott-Negri (CBK/Labor), Lynne Turner (SBK/Labor), Matan Diner (CBK), Matthew Lief (NBK), Michael Cavadias (Lower Manhattan), Michael Kinnucan (CBK), Michael Korn (SBK), Michael Hirsch (Lower Manhattan), Molly Crabapple (Lower Manhattan), Molly Niedbala (CBK), Moumita Ahmed (Queens), Natalie James (CBK), Natan Last (CBK), Nathan Newman (Bronx / Upper Manhattan), Neal Meyer (CBK), Nikki Lief (NBK), Nina Svirsky (Lower Manhattan), Nomiki Konst (Queens), Ondreya Dier (NBK), Patrick Bobilin (NYC-DSA At Large), Patrick T. Shepherd (Labor), Paul Horowitz (SBK), Peter Hogness (CBK), Rafael Noboa y Rivera (Queens), Rafael Shimunov (Queens), Renee Greene Levitt (Bronx / Upper Manhattan), Robert Ambaras (Bronx / Upper Manhattan / Labor), Ryan Bruckenthal (NBK/Labor), Sam Ghitelman (CBK), Sam Lewis (CBK), Seth Pollack (CBK), Shabbir Manjee (CBK), Sheila Fernandez (Queens), Sol Freire (Queens), Stephen Lurie (CBK), Steven Sherman (NBK), Susan Kang (Queens), Ted Auerbach (SBK), Tom Reed (CBK), Tyler Horst (SBK), Wesley Higgins (NBK), Will Luckman (CBK), Zach Lewis (NBK).
Andrew Cuomo and his Austerity Program
For the last eight years Andrew Cuomo has presented himself as a major figure in national progressive politics and a contender for the Democratic presidential nomination. He has received national acclaim for passing gay marriage in New York State, raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour in New York City, implementing paid family leave, and the Excelsior Scholarships which provide tuition waivers to some CUNY and SUNY students. In recent months, he has attempted to position himself as a major rival to Donald Trump on immigration and other issues.
But for anyone with a commitment to working class politics in New York, Cuomo’s tenure is one of consistent and brutal austerity politics. He has overseen continued tuition increases at SUNY and CUNY as State funding declines, fare increases in the MTA as service quality collapses, and the continuation of decades of racist and unconstitutional underfunding of urban public schools. At a time when New York’s housing crisis spirals out of control, Cuomo has let the Republican State Senate draft our State’s housing policy, allowing for the implementation of ALEC funded anti-rent control legislation.
He has also been the key figure in maintaining a political bloc in favor of these austerity politics. From his first election, Cuomo ran as a Clinton-style “New Democrat” committed to breaking public sector unions. He used the threat of layoffs to extract concessionary contracts and discipline from the unions representing State workers, who were the first line of defense against his policies. He has tried on multiple occasions to undermine and destroy the Working Families Party, which is the defacto labor party in New York State. He has orchestrated Republican control of the State Senate for 8 years through his support of the Independent Democratic Conference. As a key official in Dinkins’ commission on homelessness, he drafted policy pathologizing and criminalizing homeless individuals; as HUD Secretary, he dismantled public housing in favor of the private based voucher model. Any path to major reforms in Albany faces one obstacle at the outset — Andrew Cuomo and his bloc of IDC Senators.
The Growing Rupture in New York State Politics
The entry of Cynthia Nixon and Jumaane Williams into the Governor’s and Lieutenant Governor’s races represent a major rupture in New York State politics. With the support of multiracial, working class organizations like New York Communities for Change, Citizen Action of New York and Make The Road New York, a major bloc is finally challenging Cuomo’s neoliberal agenda. These are working class organizations that have consistently stood with NYC-DSA on our various issue based campaigns, and in multiple cases with our political candidates. This rupture is crucial for NYC-DSA to engage with because it presents the opportunity to strike a blow against one of the most prominent representatives of the neoliberal wing of Democratic politics nationally, and because it represents the major opportunity we have to advance DSA’s two priority campaigns — the fight for Universal Rent Control and the New York Health Act.
Two of NYC-DSA’s candidates, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Julia Salazar, have both endorsed Cynthia Nixon’s bid for Governor. This is a clear moment where insurgent, women candidates are standing up to the austerity regime of corporate Democrats, and we should stand with them.
Universal Rent Control and The New York Health Act
Cynthia not only supports, but has made our two citywide campaigns central to her campaign, including universal rent control. No major party candidate for governor in recent memory had advocated anything close to the universal tenant protections for every tenant in New York now being advocated for by Cynthia. In recent years, most of the tenant movement didn’t even go this far — Cynthia’s campaign has made the concept of universal rent control a political possibility. With respect to Universal Health Care, our other citywide campaign, she has described replacing the private health insurance system with a public system as “eliminating an industry.”
Jumaane Williams has been a long time advocate for tenants. He began his career as a tenant organizer and eventually executive director at Tenants and Neighbors, one of the oldest tenants’ rights organizations in New York City. He has taken arrest protesting for stronger tenant protections numerous times, and has been a consistent “No” vote on the de Blasio administration’s real estate driven housing agenda. Jumaane is one of the most left-wing members of the City Council, a powerful advocate for immigrant justice, criminal justice/police reform. Jumaane was an early endorser of Bernie Sanders, and has deep credibility with the communities in which NYC-DSA is seeking to build.
It is not hyperbole to say that both of our citywide priorities live or die based on the Nixon/Williams bid for Statewide office. No other candidates with a realistic ability to win this year have demonstrated anything close to the passionate support of our two priorities that Nixon/Williams have. The basic needs of millions of our fellow New Yorkers are on the line. We should stand in solidarity with the working people struggling in this state by supporting the candidates who have committed to policies that would transform people’s lives.
What these Campaigns Mean for NYC-DSA
The most recent poll, conducted in early June, places Cuomo 35 points ahead of Nixon. Cynthia is not leading in any specific demographic according to the above toplines, but has higher-than-average support among union households, New York City and Upstate residents, and voters under 55. With two and a half months left until September 13, there is a significant uphill battle for these campaigns, but also a path to victory that we can help shape.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s surprise win demonstrates the incredible opportunity a strong challenger campaigning on a democratic socialist platform presents for NYC-DSA. If Cynthia and Jumaane can join Alexandria and Julia Salazar in upsetting establishment candidates, DSA will have played a vital role in yet another shock to politics as usual in our state, and will have brought us a step closer to the socialist world we want to see. Engaging in a Statewide race will continue to bring media attention to Democratic Socialism and will continue to build power and credibility for our organization in a watershed political moment.
Even if she faces a disadvantage in this race, Cynthia Nixon has effectively been the best governor that New York has had in decades — pushing Cuomo to reverse his positions on the legality of marijuana — a major driver of mass incarceration, to commit $550 million to repairing NYCHA housing units, and to disband the Independent Democratic Caucus.
There is a real possibility that Cynthia Nixon, in the event that she wins, will waver on our priorities. She may remain strong on some issues like education, but fail to meet our standards in the face of pressure from the most powerful industries in the State. These are valid concerns. DSA should be clear that our first priority is to advancing our issue campaigns, and we should remain uncompromising in holding any elected officials to that standard.
But even in this scenario, a Nixon governorship would be a major shift to the left from the status quo. Ousting Andrew Cuomo from the left, breaking the power of the IDC in Albany, and putting single payer health care and universal rent control within reach would be a tremendous victory to the working class. And if an endorsed candidate strays from commitments they made, we remain committed to do everything we can replace them with someone more in line with democratic socialist values.
We believe that the activist left has a responsibility to take on Andrew Cuomo and his eight years of austerity governing. Win or lose, it is a mistake for NYC-DSA to sit out the most consequential political contest in New York State.
A Path Forward that Acknowledges Our Capacity
The most compelling reason to not endorse Cynthia Nixon and/or Jumaane Williams is a question of our capacity as a citywide organization. We are already committed to Julia Salazar’s state senate race, and need to maintain this commitment. There is a case to be made that any resources devoted to campaigning for Cynthia Nixon or Jumaane Williams would take resources away from Julia’s campaign.
However, Julia’s ability to successfully push for the housing policies, and other priorities of ours, such as the New York Health Act, will in large part depend on having a cooperative governor and lieutenant governor in Albany. Universal rent control and the New York Health Act will be non-starters as long as Cuomo is governor, even if Julia is elected. Cynthia Nixon and Julia Salazar have co-endorsed each other, knowing that their abilities to deliver on their campaign promises depend on each other being elected.
As in Ocasio-Cortez’ campaign, we would not be the only organization tasked with pushing for a Nixon victory. Cynthia and Jumaane have picked up endorsements from the Working Families Party, New York Communities for Change, Make The Road New York, New York Progressive Action Network, and other organizations with citywide, statewide, and national bases of support. If we endorse Nixon, we could define the terms of our engagement, and carve out a segment of the work that remains in line with our strategic priorities.
No volunteer capacity should be diverted from the Julia Salazar campaign. We should focus any and all canvassing we do for Nixon in Julia Salazar’s district, if they find it helpful, incorporating some of Nixon and Williams’ materials into our existing field operations, while maintaining the focus on getting Julia elected. We should ensure that our field operations in SD18 can benefit all three candidates, depending on the Salazar campaign team’s needs. Their primaries are all on the same day, and we could present them to voters as a group of candidates who will make each other’s promises much more easy to keep.
The Electoral Working Groups should provide support and best practices to members who want to support the Nixon and Williams campaigns. Members may want to plan canvasses or engage in less formal types of support in our direct action and protest mobilization — simply providing our resources and perspectives to attendees of Nixon and Williams’ events that focus on abolishing ICE, universal rent control, and universal healthcare, such as at the recent march against Cuomo’s housing crisis. They should have the support of NYC-DSA and the electoral working groups in doing so. We will draft a message to our membership encouraging them to vote for Cynthia Nixon and Jumaane Williams in the New York State Democratic Primary. There should be no ambiguity. NYC-DSA members are committed to ending Andrew Cuomo’s agenda of austerity, and passing universal rent control and the New York Health Act. At the current juncture in New York State politics, joining with working class organizations across the State to defeat Andrew Cuomo is the most powerful mechanism we have to make these demands a reality.