If Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s political experience and accomplishments were the only advantages he brought to the contest against Cynthia Nixon in Thursday’s Democratic primary, they would likely be enough.
But he also has the edge on political philosophy. On nearly every issue in which Cuomo’s and Nixon’s platforms differ, the two-term governor’s vision is the better choice for Democrats, for this city and for the state.
In this race, Nixon, an actress turned activist, has become an avatar for younger, more liberal New Yorkers disenchanted with establishment Democrats. Some of what she wants for New York, and particularly for its most challenged residents, is mostly noble: better schools, access to health care and affordable housing are some of her signature issues. It’s in her plans to provide these things that her philosophy is felled by reality.
Case against Nixon
When Nixon talks about improving schools, her answer is more taxpayer money for the traditional system that spends $22,366 per student, 90 percent above the national average. She rails against public charter schools, no matter how successful. Under Nixon, taxpayers would pay a lot more for an education system that likely wouldn’t improve.
Nixon’s answer on health care is state-financed single-payer for all. Her plan is “Pass it and then figure out how to fund it.” But it can’t be implemented for New York alone without massive state income and payroll tax increases that would cause wealthy people and big employers to flee. It would require Washington to grant a waiver to redirect all federal funds (like those used for Medicaid and Medicare patients) that this federal government will not grant. Nixon is not wrong to support single-payer health care, but such a transition would take time and would need buy-in from the federal government. It’s that pragmatic approach that has Cuomo’s support.
To provide more affordable housing, Nixon supports statewide price controls on nearly all rental units. But even liberal economists say the effect would be a dire shortage of apartments, particularly in downstate suburbs already facing a dearth of such housing, as investors would refuse to put money into a market in which they couldn’t earn a strong profit.
And while Nixon is right that the city’s subway system is increasingly disastrous, her idea to address it is the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s plan plus the “millionaire’s tax” Mayor Bill de Blasio has been offering as a catch-all fix for years.
Then there are the Nixon campaign planks that would be terrible ideas even if they worked as intended. Nixon’s support of a right to strike for public-sector union workers when state law already grants them strong protections would be disastrous. And the rollback of public pension reforms Cuomo pushed through that she calls for would put unbearable pressure on taxpayers.
Case for Cuomo
Stacked up against Nixon’s fantasies, Cuomo’s eight years of achievement are even more impressive. For many, they are often drowned out by an imperious and bruising style he claims is the only way to get things done in a state capital besieged by bureaucracy and intransigence. He likely has a point.
Besides Cuomo’s pension and taxation reforms, his progress in addressing New York’s seemingly intractable infrastructure woes may be his greatest accomplishment. The Tappan Zee Bridge replacement is a reality, as is the Second Avenue Subway. The Long Island Rail Road’s long-frustrated third-track has broken ground. And LaGuardia and Kennedy airports are undergoing huge improvements, as is Penn Station. And Cuomo has been a voice for social justice and the environment, pushing for gay marriage, tough gun controls and paid family leave, banning fracking for natural gas, supporting clean energy, and raising the state’s minimum wage.
The challenges Cuomo has faced from his left have been effective in a way that his challengers might not be if they ran the state. Convinced to raise the minimum wage, for instance, and fight for paid family leave, he was able to push them through.
The tough job of New York governor is getting tougher. In Washington, President Donald Trump has launched a full assault on the state that includes punitive tax code changes, eroded environmental and consumer protections and attacks on education and civil rights. At home, the challenge of providing jobs, education, transportation, health care, justice and safety to the state’s residents is a complex and monumental task, as is the continuing battle to stop the corruption in state government that has ensnared even Cuomo’s closest allies.
Cuomo has shown he’s up to the challenge. Nixon hasn’t even shown she comprehends it.