Cynthia Nixon Wants to be New York’s Next FDR

After a 20 minute wait for the highly-trafficked L train, I found Cynthia: She was standing on the citybound subway platform at Brooklyn’s Lorimer Street Station in a bright pink felt coat and vintage “Nixon’s the One” button, greeting the stream of commuters as they arrived for their morning delay. “Hi, I’m Cynthia,” she shook hands and told underground New Yorkers, “And I’m running for governor.”

A bearded millennial grinned broadly and said he was excited to vote for her in the primary. A twenty-something girl with bleach blonde hair and the telltale Fjallraven backpack spotted Nixon—hard to miss, with a volunteer holding a light-up sign “#CuomosMTA” over her head—and squealed with delight, “I love you!”

Hasidim, their payot bouncing, glanced briefly at the reporters and supporters gathered around her. A woman in business attire sighed to another commuter, “Really? I just wanna go to work.” But dozens more paused to snap photos and collect fliers from a campaign volunteer. “I’m running to fix the subway,” Nixon told them, as they settled in for a crowded wait. “When I’m governor,” she said, “We won’t have delays.”

But, subway-savior aside, what sort of governor would she be, really? Nixon launched her campaign in March, setting incumbent Governor Andrew Cuomo on the offensive: The week she announced, he dismissed her run as another symptom of “silly season” but since then, he’s adjusted his policies in apparent response to her critiques of his corporatist centrism. Still, Nixon, a longtime education activist and instrumental surrogate for New York City Mayor de Blasio, has never sought or served in elected office before now.

Who’s her political role model? “There are so many,” she told me, as trains roared in the tunnels around us. “Shirley Chisholm is really inspiring.” Chisholm, the first African-American woman to serve in Congress, represented New York’s 12th Congressional District from 1969 to 1983, when Nixon was growing up in the city. “Because she did something that didn’t seem possible, and she did it so well. I think so many women who run for office stand on her shoulders.”

But, beyond Chisholm, “Franklin Roosevelt, for me, he’s the one: First of all, he was such a great governor of New York state. He tried so many of the things in New York before he became president,” she said, referring to the relief system FDR instituted in the state in the early aftermath of the 1929 crash. “Franklin Roosevelt’s investment in our people and our infrastructure was a brilliant thing and is, I think, what we should be doing.”

New Yorkers increasingly approach her on the street or on the train with their subway grievances, she recounted to reporters during a pop-up press gaggle up above the platform: “It’s wrecking their lives. It’s making them late to work. It’s making their kids late to school. New York City runs on the trains.” Repairs have been put off for years amid budget mismanagement and mounting train delays. And in the latest prominent MTA failure, delays left commuters stranded in immense crowds at Grand Central Terminal Tuesday evening.

Photo credit: Alice B. Lloyd / THE WEEKLY STANDARD

Cynthia Nixon hugs a voter on a subway platform.

Asked by one metro reporter whether she can really promise an end to chronic train delays if elected, Nixon backed off a bit. “While they’re won’t be no delays, you can be sure there will be a governor who’ll be addressing the problem—who will know the MTA, and that she’s in charge of it.”

Up above the platform, a student teacher named Olivia said she’d love a governor who knows what New Yorkers need fixed. “I grew up in Queens. And it’s been a while since we’ve had someone run who really knows how it is.”

She was worried she might be late for school, but lingered near the gaggle anyway until she ginned up the courage introduce herself to Nixon, a longtime education advocate. She answered the candidate’s warm and curious questions about her work, and they hugged.

And by the time I’d got back to Manhattan, #CuomosMTA was trending nationally on Twitter. I can see the likeness: FDR rode the train cross country, Nixon rides the L. He kissed babies, she hugs millennials. His campaign song “Happy Days Are Here Again” was a hit in 1932. And today her hashtag is trending.

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