By the time some of you read this, Andrew Cuomo — barring a colossal fail on the part of public opinion poll after public opinion poll — will have been nominated for a third term as New York’s governor.
I am not writing about who should win the Democratic nomination on September 13, but rather about the future of progressive politics.
This past weekend, on the eve of the Jewish New Year, the New York State Democratic Party sent out a mailer targeted to Jewish voters charging that Cynthia Nixon, the governor’s challenger, has been “silent on the rise of anti-Semitism” and has taken positions on the conflict in the Middle East that she has not. The sin of falsehood, here, was compounded by one of the most egregious slanders that can be leveled against a person.
In fact, Nixon and her wife, Christine Marinoni, are members of Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, the nation’s oldest and most storied LGBTQ Jewish community, and they are raising their children as Jewish. Hours after the mailer surfaced, CBST’s senior rabbi, Sharon Kleinbaum, and her wife, Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, issued a statement reading, in part, “We have both maintained our neutrality in the primary between Governor Cuomo and Cynthia Nixon. We know them both well, and Sharon is Cynthia’s Rabbi. Cynthia is no anti-Semite. It’s a baseless lie.”
The state Democratic Party and Cuomo quickly retreated from this outrageous attack. Geoff Berman, the party’s executive director, termed the mailer “wrong and inappropriate” and pledged to pay for a mailer on Nixon’s behalf. The governor said it was “inappropriate” and “a mistake,” even as he disclaimed any prior knowledge of it.
Cuomo can’t evade responsibility with a few words and a directive to investigate how the mailer came about. The buck stops with him, someone well known as a micro-manager.
The attack on Nixon recalls other unfortunate statements made by or attributed to the governor. In 2008, as the state’s attorney general and a supporter of Senator Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, he said of her rival, Illinois Senator Barack Obama, “You can’t shuck and jive at a press conference.”
In 1977, when his father, Mario, was running against Ed Koch in that year’s mayoral race, signs surfaced reading, “Vote for Cuomo, Not the Homo.” Nineteen-year-old Andrew, a key figure in the senior Cuomo’s campaign, was widely suspected of being behind the gay-baiting of Koch. When asked about the incident by Gay City News in 2002, Andrew Cuomo at first challenged whether the incident had in fact occurred before denying any responsibility for it.
Despite the state party and the governor’s disavowal of the flyer and its repudiation by Rabbi Kleinbaum, gay men on Facebook this week continued to dog Nixon over a video of her ordering a bagel — suggesting not only that she knows nothing about Jewish cuisine but also that she ignored the men of color serving her and the Jewish customers surrounding her. This is just despicable.
This whole episode is a telling warning for progressives as we consider a hoped-for post-Trump future. Among all the post-mortems of the 2016 campaign, it is widely agreed that the Democrats simply failed to convince enough Americans that they are fighting on their behalf. We can have a politics where we work earnestly — even as we at times disagree — to shape solutions that meet the crying needs of Americans of all stripes. Or we can borrow the ugly tactics of Trump and his ilk and divide people for partisan gain while delivering no new answers.
That’s the test that our elected officials face. This week, Andrew Cuomo flunked that test.