Cuomo heads off Nixon challenge on a night otherwise good for progressives

Cuomo heads off Nixon challenge on a night otherwise good for progressives

Incumbent New York governor clinches primary with 66-43 percent of vote as other conservative Democrats faced difficult primary challenges

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo at a primary debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, August 29, 2018. (Craig Ruttle-Pool/Getty Images)
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo at a primary debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, August 29, 2018. (Craig Ruttle-Pool/Getty Images)

New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo appears headed for a third term as governor after soundly defeating a Democratic primary challenge from his left.

Cuomo overcame negative publicity when a former aide’s last minute attempt to mislead Jewish voters about the Israel positions of his rival, Cynthia Nixon, backfired. Media called the race for Cuomo soon after polls closed Thursday at 9 p.m., with close to 70 percent of the vote counted. Cuomo led Nixon, an actor best known for her role in “Sex and the City,” 66-34 percent.

The son of a revered former governor of New York, Mario Cuomo, Andrew Cuomo is believed to be a sure bet to defeat the Republican challenger, Marc Molinaro.

Cuomo, who always led in the polls and outspent his rival more than 8 to 1, seldom mentioned Nixon by name during an often-nasty campaign, instead touting his experience, achievements in two terms as governor and his work to push back against President Donald Trump.

“You cannot be a progressive if you cannot deliver progress. And a New York progressive is not just a dreamer, but we are doers,” Cuomo said at a campaign rally the night before the vote. “We make things happen.”

In this file photo taken on September 3, 2018 Cynthia Nixon, candidate for New York Governor, participates in the annual West Indian Day Parade in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (AFP PHOTO / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Yana Paskova)

Otherwise, it appeared to be a good night for progressives. Julia Salazar, a proponent of the movement to boycott Israel whose constantly revised claims to Jewish identity raised questions and challenges in the media, ousted an incumbent, Martin Malavé Dilan, in a race for the state Senate, 59-41 percent.

Additionally, a number of conservative Democrats who have for years worked with Republicans to keep the Senate in GOP hands were in peril of losing their seats.

On the eve of Rosh Hashanah, the Democratic Party, which is led by Cuomo, sent 7,000 Jewish homes a flier claiming Nixon was silent on anti-Semitism, that she backed the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement targeting Israel, and that she opposed subsidies for Jewish education.

All of the claims were false, and newspapers reported that a former top aide to Cuomo wrote the flier and another former top aide signed off on it. Cuomo denounced the release, but Nixon and her supporters pushed back, accusing the establishment of dirty tricks. Nixon is raising her two children as Jewish. She does not back BDS, but she opposes the penalty Cuomo has imposed for compliance with the movement.

Salazar, 27, mounted a strong campaign to unseat Dilan in the 18th state Senate district, covering areas of Brooklyn, including Williamsburg and Bushwick. She is a member of the Democratic Socialists of America and is that grouping’s second major upset in the State. In June, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, also aligned with the DSA, ousted a longterm congressman in the Bronx.

In this Wednesday, August 15, 2018, photo, Democratic New York state Senate candidate Julia Salazar smiles as she speaks to a supporter before a rally in McCarren Park in the Brooklyn borough of New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

Salazar, like the DSA, backs BDS. Her biography came under close scrutiny when journalists uncovered evidence that she had not grown up working class, as she had claimed; that she was not an immigrant, as she had allowed campaign officials to claim without correction; and after evidence appeared to undercut her claim to Jewish roots, through her father, and Jewish identity.

Family members denied knowledge of Jewish roots, and digging into her late father’s family’s history in Colombia showed nothing but Roman Catholic affiliations. Salazar said she had converted to Judaism while at Columbia University, but the Reform rabbi she named was a rabbinical intern at the time, and the movement does not allow rabbinical interns to perform conversions. A number of friends from her university days vouched for her Jewish identity.

However much these issues preoccupied the Jewish press, the larger themes of her campaign, including calls for rent control, resonated against her rival, whom she accused of deferring to real estate interests.

Eight members of a conservative group called the Independent Democratic Conference faced primary challenges — unusual in the Senate, where most incumbents were unchallenged, and some appeared headed for certain defeat.

The eight hastily disbanded the group at Cuomo’s behest in April as it appeared likely they would face challenges from the left, but it was for naught — they were primaried nonetheleess.

Among those likely headed for defeat was Senator Jeffrey Klein, whose 34th District represents parts of the Bronx and Westchester. Julie Goldberg, a teacher, was mounting a strong challenge against another IDC member, David Carlucci, in the 38th District in Rockland County northwest of New York City.

The IDC was reviled among Democrats for striking deals with Republicans in the Senate, getting powerful chairmanships in exchange for giving the GOP an effective majority in the body. Cuomo was believed to silently back the arrangement as a means of keeping liberal Democratic pressure at a minimum.

Nixon now must decide whether she wants to run on the November ballot as a candidate for the third-party Working Families Party, thanks to a New York state law that allows candidates to run on multiple ballot lines. Early in the campaign, Nixon said she would stand aside if she lost the Democratic primary, but it remains to be seen whether the party can remove her name from the ballot.

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