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Nixon, in Albany to critique Cuomo, pulls no punches

Democratic candidate for governor Cynthia Nixon speaks at a press conference in Albany Monday

Cynthia Nixon, Democratic candidate for governor, came to Albany to critique the school funding record of her potential primary opponent, Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The funding is now being discussed in the state budget. As in all of her comments since she’s announced her candidacy, Nixon didn’t pull any punches.

Nixon came to the Capitol with the pro-school funding group Alliance for Quality Education. She’s been working with them for years to get more money to the state’s neediest schools. She calls it the “major civil rights issue of our time,” and she said Cuomo is furthering policies that favor spending more money on New York’s wealthy, predominately white schools than on the state’s poorest schools.

“Governor Cuomo’s entire argument on school funding is just one big excuse to ignore the lives of students who are black or brown or working class,” said Nixon, who added that the governor’s budget “does not value the lives of the majority of New York’s children.”

Nixon said Cuomo is not obeying a 12-year-old court order in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity case, which says the state needs to spend billions more on schools in order for them to become equitable. The Democratic candidate and actor said she backs a proposal in the state Assembly to impose new taxes on the rich to phase in full compliance with the court order in three years.

A spokesman for the governor, Rich Azzopardi, said 80 percent of the major portion of the state’s school aid, known as foundation aid, already is directed to the state’s neediest schools. He said any inequalities that might exist are due to higher property values and tax collections in individual districts, which he said is a local issue.

Nixon also said Cuomo is not fulfilling a commitment to provide pre-kindergarten to all of New York’s 3- and 4-year-olds.

“In fact, he declares that he’s actually done it, a la George Bush: ‘Mission accomplished,’ ” said Nixon, who added that 79 percent of 4-year-olds outside of New York City lack access to pre-K.

The comparisons to Republican presidents did not stop there. Nixon went on to critique the governor’s record on ethics, saying he closed down a Moreland Act Commission that was actively investigating corruption in state government, and earlier this month saw his former closest aide convicted of bribery.

“He’s cleaned up Albany about as well as Donald Trump has drained the swamp,” she said.

She also compared Cuomo’s hard-charging behavior to that of Trump, calling him “Andrew the Bully.”

Nixon criticized the method for deciding the budget. It’s been known as “three men in a room,” because the governor and the two majority party legislative leaders hash out details in private in the governor’s office.

The talks have now become known as “four men in a mansion,” because the leader of the breakaway Democrats in the Senate, Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein, has been included. And the discussions are occurring at the more secluded governor’s mansion, a couple of blocks away from the Capitol.

As part of the budget, Cuomo and the legislative leaders are crafting a new anti-sexual harassment policy for the state. Nixon questioned why the only female legislative leader, Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, has been left out of the discussions.

“The highest elected woman in New York state is not in the room,” said Nixon. “But the king of the eight-member IDC, Klein — who is accused of sexual misconduct himself — is.”

Klein denies the charges, which are under investigation by the state ethics board.

Cuomo has spent time in recent days defending his school funding policies. He’s often said that simply spending more money on schools is not the answer. And, speaking at an African-American church in Harlem on Sunday, he spoke of some new requirements he’d like from schools before he commits to more funding, saying, “We don’t even know what money goes to what school.”

“We spend more money per pupil than any other state. We spend two times the national average. The question is, where does it go and who's getting it?” Cuomo said. “And that's a question they have to answer in this budget this week or I'm not going to sign a check that gives anyone one dollar until we know where that money goes.”

Nixon calls Cuomo’s stance a delaying tactic.

The governor’s campaign did not immediately respond with a comment.

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.