Cynthia Nixon, a candidate for the Democratic party nomination for New York State governor, announced her intent to convert the Cayuga Power Plant into a renewable energy facility at a political rally in downtown Ithaca on Saturday morning.
At the rally, which advertised a “major environmental announcement,” Nixon slammed opponent Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D-N.Y.) policy record on environmental and social issues and promised a 100 percent transition to renewable energy in the state if elected.
Nixon, a former Broadway and television actress, is seeking nomination — in her first political campaign ever — against incumbent Cuomo in the Sept. 13 primary.
“Being a leader in renewable energy is not only good for our health but a growing industry that New York needs to be on the ground floor of,” Nixon told a crowd of over 200 supporters at The Space @ GreenStar. She promised that, while the Cayuga Power Plant would never run on fracked gas, “banning fracking is only the first step.”
Nixon vowed to enact a “polluters’ tax” if elected, projecting a $7 million payout in the first year which her administration would use to “turbocharge” the push toward clean energy.
She also advocated for the the Climate and Communities Protection Act, which mandates a full transition to renewable energy by 2050. The act was passed by the state assembly in April and is currently in committee for the state senate.
Sandra Steingraber, a local biologist who was a visiting scholar at Cornell from 1999 to 2003, also decried the “public health menace” of the local Cayuga energy plant in an introductory endorsement, calling it a “dinosaur power plant that is [Cuomo’s] legacy.”
This was a common theme throughout the rally, as Nixon linked systematic New York State issues to Cuomo’s policy record and the influence of corporate donors.
“We are not accepting a dime of corporate contribution,” Nixon told the crowd, in opposition to the millions raised by Cuomo’s campaign. “We cannot be bought.”
She described her run for governor as a “David and Goliath” effort, with her small-donor voting base against Cuomo’s eight years in office and his legacy as former Gov. Mario Cuomo’s (D-N.Y.) son.
Nixon voted for Cuomo eight years ago because she remembered his father, she told the room, but feels the younger Cuomo has “governed like a Republican” both politically and fiscally, including accepting David Koch’s $87,000 contribution to his campaign in 2010.
Nixon also used the time to unpack her platform on social issues, including advocating for the legalization of recreational marijuana, which she described as a “racial justice issue.”
“[Marijuana has] effectively been legal for white people for a long time,” Nixon said, pointing to statistics of black and Latino users comprising over 80 percent of New York marijuana arrests. If elected, Nixon aims to transform marijuana into an economically productive industry as well as to release convicted users from jail and expunge their records.
She also promised sweeping reform in “over-policing” and mass incarceration, especially among communities of color.
“Black Lives Matter can’t just be a slogan,” she said to rousing cheers. “We have to actually do something about it.”
Akeem Browder, a social activist for prison reform, endorsed Nixon’s bid for office at the rally. Browder’s brother Kalief Browder was incarcerated in Rikers Island Prison for three years, much of it in solitary confinement, his brother said, after being accused of stealing a backpack at the age of 16. Kalief Browder committed suicide two years after his release and was the subject of a 2017 Netflix documentary series.
Browder endorsed Cuomo in the last election cycle but told the crowd that the incumbent governor had failed to enact real change despite his two terms in office.
“We just keep putting him in office, but isn’t that the definition of insanity?” Browder asked. “Doing the same things over and over and expecting a different result?”
During her speech, Nixon promised to close the Rikers Island facility.
Nixon, a “proud public school graduate,” also advocated education reform at the rally and in an interview with The Sun.
“New York schools are the second most unequally funded in the nation. You’ve got a $10,000 spending gap per pupil between the richest and the poorest areas,” she told The Sun. “That is partly to do with white kids in underfunded areas but it’s overwhelmingly to do with how we underfund our black and brown schools.”
Zephyr Teachout, current candidate for New York State attorney general, endorsed Cynthia Nixon at the rally as well. Teachout lost the 2014 gubernatorial nomination to Cuomo.
“This is a really really serious moment for our state … and for our country,” Teachout told the crowd. “We are up against some of the most terrifying forces at the national level and big money on the state level. They’ve got fear and big money, and we’ve got love and community.”
Nixon echoed this sentiment to The Sun, advocating the importance of student and youth organization in instituting change.
“What we’ve seen, what we’re seeing, is young people involved in an unprecedented way, maybe not since the Vietnam War,” she told The Sun. “Young people realize what’s at stake, and people realize how much our establishment leaders in both parties have let us go so far astray from the path we should be on.”
Nixon’s campaign has ignited support among the far left throughout the state, many of whom are students and millennials. Prior to the rally, Nixon visited the Ithaca Farmers’ Market to shake hands with local business owners, take photos with supporters and sample fresh tomatoes and pesto.
Andrew Kohler ’20, a “big Cynthia fan,” told The Sun at the farmers’ market that he supports Nixon because of her support of union strikes, which Nixon discussed in Wednesday’s debate with Cuomo.
Leah Moore ’20 agreed with Kohler, extolling the importance of non-establishment candidates.
“We’re just excited someone’s shaking things up,” she said.
Both Kohler and Moore are from New York State and plan to vote for Nixon in the upcoming primary.
Despite Nixon’s growing grassroots support, she still trails Cuomo by over 30 points as the Sept. 13 primary approaches, according to RealClearPolitics.
“We know what a hunger there is for a progressive alternative to Andrew Cuomo,” Nixon told The Sun. “But in order to make that happen, we have to do everything we can in the next 12 days.”