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Cuomo says he's not worried about Cynthia Nixon, but actions indicate otherwise

Governor Andrew Cuomo
Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivers remarks at Planned Parenthood Day of Action rally.

In the days since actor and progressive activist Cynthia Nixon indicated she might want to run against Andrew Cuomo in a Democratic primary for governor, Cuomo has made a number of public appearances and taken several steps to shore up his political base.

It’s just over two weeks until the state budget is due, but there’s been little talk of that at the Capitol. Instead of meeting with legislative leaders to hash out health care spending and possible new taxes, Cuomo has focused on issues important to left-leaning Democrats in the state. He might need them as voters in a September primary if he’s challenged from a candidate to the left like Nixon.

The governor spoke to a gathering of abortion rights lobbyists in Albany on Tuesday, where he gave an award to Cecile Richards, former president of Planned Parenthood and the daughter of former Texas Governor Ann Richards, and touted his record on women’s issues.

“We’ve enacted the best paid family leave program in the United States of America,” Cuomo said to cheers.

Credit Governor Andrew Cuomo / Flickr
Gov. Cuomo also delivered remarks at the annual SOMOS gala and dinner.

Cuomo also spoke at a major conference of Hispanic lawmakers in Albany, where he recounted his work to help storm-damaged Puerto Rico and railed against President Donald Trump’s policies on immigrants.

“But make no mistake. Theirs is an anti-immigrant agenda. They can't even be clearer,” Cuomo said on March 10. “We believe in the exact opposite. We believe America is America because of immigrants. It's immigrants that built this country and made it what it is.”

Nixon is a leading spokesperson of a movement to get more money to help children at the poorest schools in the state. She’s worked closely with the Alliance for Quality Education, a group that has condemned the governor for not adhering to a court order in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity case that said the schools need billions more a year in state aid. Nixon was at the Capitol to rally in 2014.

“We are number five out of 50 states in terms of how that money is spent inequitably and unfairly,” Nixon said.

Since the talk of Nixon’s campaign surfaced, the governor has made a major push to fight critics of his school funding policies. He instructed his budget director, Robert Mujica, to issue a lengthy statement defending the governor’s policies on school aid and accusing opponents of spreading “distractions, myths and legends.” Cuomo also met privately with leaders of charter schools that serve African-American students.

Billy Easton, AQE’s executive director, said it’s no coincidence that the governor is suddenly attacking opponents of his school aid record.

“This is all happening in the middle of the governor having a total freak-out moment over just the rumor that Cynthia Nixon, who is a school equity champion, might run against him,” said Easton, who called Cuomo’s track record on school funding “weak.”

Nixon is gay, and in recent days, reporters have received emails detailing endorsements for Cuomo’s re-election from prominent LGBTQ figures, including Elton John.

Hudson Valley Congressman Sean Patrick Mahoney, in a statement, even asked Nixon to reconsider running, saying that he owes his marriage to the governor. Cuomo shepherded same-sex marriage into law in New York in 2011.

Cuomo has implied that Nixon is a B-list celebrity, and even made a joke about her that involved Vladimir Putin.

In recent days, though, he said he’s unconcerned about facing a primary challenge.

“I’m not nervous about whoever runs,” Cuomo said in New York City on March 14. “That’s called elections and that’s fine.”

So far, Nixon has been silent on her future plans. The cable channel New York One reported that Nixon appeared to be shooting a potential campaign ad in New York City over the past few days.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.