Hours after the city’s subway system suffered yet another meltdown last month, Cynthia Nixon called a press conference inside the Broadway-Lafayette station to attack Gov. Cuomo’s management of the MTA.
There was just one problem: No one could hear the actress-turned-gubernatorial candidate as train after train rumbled by.
“The governor’s priorities are out of whack because his donors don’t ride the New York City subways, and neither does he!” Nixon shouted above the roar.
A month earlier, when the Democratic hopeful unveiled her $7.4 billion proposal for school funding, she defiantly refused to take questions afterward. It was a head-scratching moment for the longtime public-schools activist, who cited her differences with Cuomo on school funding and testing as a major reason she decided to run.
A Post reporter had to follow Nixon from the school-funding press conference at downtown’s Manhattan Community College all the way to the subway to try to get answers, but Nixon still ignored him, prompting her wife, education activist Christine Marinoni, to privately assure the reporter she knew he was just doing his job.
The incidents are just part of a string of rookie errors by the former “Sex and the City” star, who can’t afford to make even minor mistakes as she takes on a two-term incumbent with millions of dollars in campaign cash.
While star power gave Nixon, 52, the ability to make a splash when she entered the party primary in March, the mom of three has struggled to master the steep learning curve of New York politics.
“The Cynthia Nixon buzz has subsided,” veteran political operative George Arzt told The Post. Meanwhile, “the governor is a master of politics and knows exactly what he has to do.”
Doug Muzzio, a politics professor at Baruch College, added, “I think New Yorkers are somewhat hesitant to vote for an amateur.
“We’ve got an amateur in the White House. The ideology is totally different, the intelligence level is totally different, but [Nixon]’s an amateur,” too, he said.
On paper, this should be a dream year to run against Cuomo. His administration is ensnared in corruption scandals, subway fiascoes occur almost daily, and local progressives are on the march against state Senate Democrats who once aligned with Republicans.
And Nixon started out with a leg up on Cuomo’s previous Democratic challenger, Zephyr Teachout: Instant recognition, thanks to her role as Miranda on “Sex and the City.”
Nixon quickly landed scores of profiles even in publications that normally shy away from politics — from Elle to People to Vogue — and TV appearances on “The View” and “The Wendy Williams Show.”
She garnered a star-studded list of endorsements and campaign contributors including “SATC” co-stars Sarah Jessica Parker and Kristin Davis and actors Kyra Sedgwick, Mary-Louise Parker and Zachary Quinto.
The newbie candidate’s close ties to Mayor de Blasio gave her another edge: access to the constellation of political operatives who guided Hizzoner’s come-from-behind 2013 win.
Cuomo’s campaign has been far from error-free, giving Nixon plenty of openings to take shots. But she doesn’t seem able to take advantage.
Former de Blasio staffer and fundraiser Hayley Prim runs Nixon’s campaign, aided by Rebecca Katz, a former top mayoral adviser. Another old hand from de Blasio’s 2013 campaign, Matt McLaughlin, helped oversee the video launching Nixon’s campaign
But none of her multimedia efforts has captured the city’s — or state’s — imagination the way the ad featuring the mayor’s then-teen son, Dante de Blasio, did, or even the homemade footage that went viral of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who in June scored a huge primary upset against Rep. Joe Crowley (D-Queens/Bronx).
In the early days of her campaign, Nixon took pains to emphasize her history of education activism — inspired by her three public-school-educated kids — as she worked to allay concerns about her inexperience in governing.
In 2002, police arrested Nixon at a City Hall protest as then-Mayor Mike Bloomberg fought to slash $350 million from the city Board of Education’s budget. And she was one of the boldface names who challenged Bloomberg and Cuomo as they push to expand charter schools in the city.
But her crash course through the complexities of state government has been rocky at times, most recently as she campaigned on overhauling New York’s rent regulations beneath the hulking apartment towers at Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field.
Nixon stepped to the microphone to chants of “Cynthia!” and proclaimed her support for a dramatic expansion of the state’s rent-stabilization program.
“New York has Cuomo’s housing crisis,” she said, blaming the governor for the gentrification that has sent rents in once-working-class neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens beyond the means of many in the middle class. “Rents are skyrocketing, and wages have flatlined, and we have a crisis of affordability.”
She demanded an end to laws that give landlords flexibility in setting and increasing stabilized rents, which makes it easier to eventually remove the units from regulation, all changes long sought by tenant-advocacy groups.
Nixon added that she favored sweeping measures to reregulate many of the apartments that are now priced at market rate, and even favored stabilizing rents for new units.
But when it came time to explain how rents would be set for thousands of reregulated apartments under the expansion, she stumbled — badly.
“They would, so you would take them back to the level at which they had . . . Sorry,” she sputtered. “You would take them at the current level.”
When a Post reporter pressed her to clarify, state lieutenant-governor candidate Jumaane Williams was among a slew of Nixon allies who jumped in to try to help cover for her.
“These questions you’re asking are what the [state] Legislature will discuss when everybody agrees,” the city councilman said. “So, as you dig into the details, you just . . . understand.”
When the Post reporter asked Nixon to clarify again, her answer shifted.
“So we would need to look at how long ago a particular unit is out of rent regulation, what it was at then, what the cap was,” she said.
“It’s not an easy answer because there are a lot of factors,” she added. “It’s not a simple formula.”
Longtime tenants advocate Michael McKee picked up where Williams left off in trying to clean up Nixon’s mess and in doing so, highlighted just how inexperienced she is in the politics game.
“Look, [Cuomo] might know more about the ins-and-outs of the rent-regulation system. Cynthia’s never dealt with it before,” said McKee, treasurer of the Tenants Political Action Committee, which endorsed Nixon.
“But that’s OK, I don’t give a s–t,” he said. “She can learn, and she will do the right thing.”
While the time would seem perfect to try to unseat Cuomo, it would be tough even with the most experienced of candidates.
Cuomo, the son of legendary three-term Gov. Mario Cuomo, is shielded by the $24 million in his campaign coffers and the enviable political machine he has built by assiduously tending to powerful constituencies in Democratic politics.
Nixon, who is gay, might have had an edge on gay-rights issues if not for Cuomo’s constant outreach. She campaigned for the backing of the biggest gay political club in the state, the Stonewall Democrats, and spoke at the group’s endorsement meeting in July — only to lose to Cuomo.
The outcome didn’t surprise club President Rod Townsend.
“With the governor’s stances [on gay marriage] over the years and people from his staff [having] always asked questions, ‘How can we help? What can we do?’ our membership notices that,” he said.
The governor has reached out to African-American leaders too, supporting efforts to divert teens from the criminal-justice system and delivering $1.4 billion in health-care improvements for impoverished black neighborhoods in Brooklyn. In return, likely African-American primary voters have given him a sky-high 79 percent favorability rating.
“These are all issues that these voters care about, and Cuomo has a record that they like,” said Siena College pollster Steve Greenberg.
Still, even if Nixon loses the Sept. 13 Democratic primary, she’s had an impact on Cuomo — by moving him further to the left.
A year ago, Cuomo called marijuana a “gateway drug” to harsher narcotics use. But with Nixon in support of its legalization, the governor now has state officials prepping to make it legal.
While this may have been seen as a political win (and a highlighting of Cuomo flip-flopping), Nixon again stepped on her own feet — saying that legal pot shops would go into minority communities first as “reparations.”
A group of black activists, many of whom support Cuomo, cried foul, saying the term should be reserved for postslavery measures.
And Cuomo’s troops quickly pounced after Nixon campaign staffers, in an e-mail to supporters, misspelled Ithaca as “Ithica” and, in a press release, confused Akeem Browder with his brother, Kalief, a young man whose suicide prompted calls for city jail reform.
With polls showing Cuomo with a 2-to-1 lead, Nixon’s campaign insists the surveys and press corps are missing a groundswell of liberal and anti-incumbent sentiment in the race — much as they did in the primary involving Ocasio-Cortez.
“I think the polls are just not capturing what’s happening on the ground,” Nixon insisted to The Post. “We’ve had hundreds of thousands of people register to vote, and there’s a new kind of progressive voter that is empowered in a way that we haven’t seen in previous years.”
Experts dismissed the comparison, saying the dynamics of a statewide Democratic primary are much different than those of the battle in Crowley’s Jackson Heights-based district.
“The demographics are different, the issues are different,” Muzzio said. “To make that comparison is absurd.”
And while Nixon now frequently mentions Ocasio-Cortez on the campaign trail, Nixon hasn’t been seen much with the new political superstar since the stunning win over Crowley.
While the two appeared together at a forum hosted by millennial news website Mic in July, a search of Nixon’s public campaign schedules showed no other shared events in August.
Instead, Ocasio-Cortez has been barnstorming in Kansas and Michigan, campaigning for fellow liberals and self-described democratic socialists in primary fights.
Nixon’s campaign says they will be campaigning with the charismatic 28-year-old in the near future.
Meanwhile, Cuomo’s campaign has been far from error-free, giving Nixon plenty of openings to take shots. But she doesn’t seem able to take advantage.
In the early days of her campaign, Nixon took pains to emphasize her history of education activism — inspired by her three public-school-educated kids — as she worked to allay concerns about her inexperience in governing…But her crash course through the complexities of state government has been rocky at times.
A close Cuomo ally, former New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, gave Nixon a gift in March, slamming the newly minted pol as an “unqualified lesbian.” Nixon’s fledgling campaign turned the statement from Quinn — who is also gay — into immediate headlines and a fundraising opportunity, but to no real lasting effect.
Cuomo also jokingly told an African-American congregation that Jews can’t dance, declared America “was never that great,” and twice dodged questions from a NY1 reporter by attacking the station’s parent company. In each case, Nixon’s campaign struggled to pierce his political armor.
“If there’s a brand of extra strength Teflon, Cuomo’s got it,” Muzzio said.
Still, Cuomo isn’t leaving anything to chance.
He and Nixon will square off Wednesday in what will be the governor’s first one-on-one debate against an opponent in more than a decade. And he’s spending twice as much running against Nixon as he did against Teachout in 2014.
But with two weeks left, it’s unclear if Nixon, with her star power, can break through.
As she recently walked down Northern Boulevard in Long Island City toward the subway, she was approached by a young man named Winston who wanted to snap a selfie with the star-turned-pol.
The candidate kindly obliged and smiled.
As she walked away, Winston’s friend Darius asked him, “What, is she famous?”
“She’s running for governor,” Winston responded.
Additional reporting by Tamar Lapin and Carl Campanile