On Wednesday evening, Governor Andrew Cuomo discussed Cynthia Nixon, actress, activist and now candidate for governor, at Hofstra University in the only debate ahead of next month’s Democratic primary. The debate was not open to the public. So people gathered in their apartments, a gastropub in Queens, a hybrid bar-restaurant-cinema-cinema in Bushwick, and Applebee’s in the Bronx, to watch Nixon, a progressive, try to close the thirty points of advantage of Cuomo in the polls.
Bleecker Street Bar, which would normally show the Yankees game, used its ten televisions and projector screen to broadcast the Cuomo-Nixon showdown. In the main room, about thirty people had gathered to send away their colleague, Rose, who was leaving a software engineering company after seven years on the job. They bought Rose drinks and remembered as best they could, as more than a hundred Nixon supporters scuttled past the leather booths and darts, crowding into the back room, where Nixon’s campaign volunteers were throwing a party. The group stood out from the other patrons, wearing the rainbow festoons “CYNTHIA FOR NY“Tools, blue buttons with the phrase” Unqualified Lesbian “(as Christine Quinn, the former New York City council spokesperson and Cuomo supporter, described Nixon, in March) and T-shirts with slogans like” Why be racist, sexist, homophobic or transphobic when could you just shut up? “A woman was wearing a crop top covered in Robert Mueller images.” Is that Mueller? “Someone asked.” Yes, “she confirmed.” I love him. “
The Nixon contingent started whistling before the debate even started, as the broadcast began showing a new Cuomo commercial, twice. Cuomo and Nixon took the stage, Cuomo wore a navy suit and a blue patterned tie, and Nixon in a sea green button up and a white blazer. “I’m not an Albany insider like Governor Cuomo,” Nixon said in his first response. “But I think experience doesn’t mean much if you’re not really good at governing.”
There was cheers and “oohs” in both rooms of the bar. While not everyone was there for Nixon’s party, hardly anyone seemed to be a supporter of Cuomo. The candidates fought over health care, labor laws, campaign funding reform, and Trump. Cuomo dispelled rumors of running for president in 2020 by declaring that an entire term will end “unless God hits me dead.” Someone at the party in the back room had planned a drinking game for the event. Whenever “Cuomo mansplains”, the rules dictated, “take a sip of your drink to the closest non-male person” If one of the candidates talks about immigration, “ask for your next drink without ICE”. The game was quickly abandoned and people drank beer and frosé at their own (fast) pace. “If you had followed the rules of the game, you would have died from alcohol poisoning,” said one attendee.
By 7:15 am PM, a quarter of the way through the debate, it was getting unbearably hot in the back room. A couple of women turned their heads upside down to put their hair in a bun. Natalie James, a Democratic Socialists of America organizer who wore a “Dump Cuomo!” pulsating, he sounded optimistic. (The DSA backed Nixon in late July, calling it their “best chance” to gain universal rent control and Medicare for all in New York.) James said he warned his friends not to put too much emphasis on polls, citing the results of the Florida Democratic government primary on Tuesday. He noted that Andrew Gillum, who polls had suggested finishing third or fourth in the race, defeated Gwen Graham, the lead and daughter of former Florida Governor Bob Graham. “State-level polls are known to be inaccurate. Look at Ocasio and Bernie. “
James, a lawyer who defends tenants from landlords, works in Bed-Stuy. She complained that she was late for the debate because trains A and F were late. “Just another day with Cuomo’s MTA,” she complained. (She was not the only participant to specifically complain about the F train).
Nixon, who was on the offensive for most of the debate, hit Cuomo hard in the subways. “He used the MTA as an ATM,” he said, accusing him of taking funds from the MTA and using them in his “pet projects”. (“My opponent lives in the world of fiction. I live in the world of fact,” Cuomo replied, arguing that capital repairs for the subway are paid for by the city, not the state, although this is a moot point.) A woman lassoed and threw her invisible rope at the screen, causing Cuomo to return.
“We are doing more construction work than at any time since Robert Moses,” Cuomo said.
“Fuck Robert Moses!” a woman cried.
A young woman in her twenties furiously tweeted the entire debate. “Governor Cuomo is like me with Amazon,” he typed. “I put everything I want in the cart, but when I see the shipping costs, I say I can’t afford it and I make irresponsible decisions based on personal desire.” She told me she was inclined to vote for Nixon, and that the debate solidified her decision: she was less impressed with Nixon than disappointed with Cuomo, who she would have found more convincing had she not “made so many excuses.” , in general, being defensive is disheartening, “he said.
Alex Liao, one of the organizers of the event, entered the hall with several boxes of pizza.
“Any vegan options?” someone jokingly asked.
“No,” Liao said, laughing.
In a flash of questions for both candidates, Nixon was asked if he would forgo the governor’s salary of one hundred and seventy-nine thousand dollars and return it to the state, since she identifies as a Democratic Socialist. He paused and thought for a moment before replying: “Sure.”
Abram Thomas Blau, the person clamoring for vegan options, described it as one of the favorite moments in the debate. “It really seemed like he didn’t necessarily consider one way or another whether he was going to give up his salary, and then he made the right call in front of us,” Blau said. “I’m not stupid – there’s a chance there was a little political theater there – but still, seeing her do the right thing, in real time, was pretty interesting.”
Gillian Feuerberg came to the bar to say hello to Rose, but she also watched the debate. While smoking a cigarette outside, Feuerberg said Nixon’s rise was “sudden”. “I love what he says, but I don’t know who he is, or what his record of votes is,” explained Feuerberg. “The governor is a huge thing. The government race is different from that of the state senate, the city council. I think it should have started with a really solid neighborhood in Manhattan. Going straight for the governor? It is quite intense. It’s almost like being a reality star and going straight to the presidency. “
“The Democratic Party is in such a strange place right now,” he continued. “I respect Cuomo for discussing Nixon as the owner. What happened in the last primary with these incredible progressives who got out of work, you have to respect that. You have to respect what happened with the left that went so far to the left. You can no longer be the centrist Democrat, even if you are elected. “
When progressives don’t win in the Democratic primary, perhaps the best thing for them is to have pushed their opponents further to the left. Since Nixon entered the race, Cuomo has begun the process of legalizing marijuana – which he once called a “gateway drug” – in New York. In April, he announced that he would restore the right to vote for criminals on probation and declared his support for the plastic bag ban. (Last year, Cuomo killed a New York City proposal that would have imposed a five-cent tax on plastic bags.)
Outside the bar after the debate, Cassandra Leveille, another DSA member, displayed the tattoo on her right arm. It was an illustration by Dorian Corey, a drag queen from the 1991 documentary “Paris is Burning”. He explained that, at the end of the documentary, Corey gives a speech about how everyone wants to make a mark on the world, but as we get older, expectations of success diminish. “You don’t have to bend the whole world,” he paraphrased. “If you shoot an arrow and it goes very high, cheers for you.”