To the editor:
As the dust settles from left-wing insurgent Cynthia Nixon’s much-anticipated rally in downtown Ithaca on September 1, many local progressives appear confident that the long-shot Cuomo challenger can pull off a surprise win in the looming gubernatorial primary. Think Ocasio-Cortez’s dramatic June victory against powerful Democratic centrist Joe Crowley in New York’s 14th congressional district, but on a much larger scale. Nixon’s unprecedented pledge to convert the Cayuga Power Plant into a renewable energy facility drew particular praise among the local left, distinguishing herself as the lone gubernatorial candidate who harbors bold progressive visions for oft-forgotten upstate communities.
That being said, Cuomo retains strong polling numbers and an iron-lock grip on state politics. Given the strong likelihood he’ll sail into a third-term with relatively limited bruising, it would be wise for progressives to leverage Nixon’s growing appeal to demand policy concessions from the sitting governor — both until and after the primary vote results are announced on September 13.
Among these potential policy concessions is a gubernatorial executive order abolishing the sub-minimum wage for tipped workers. Governor Cuomo initiated this discussion himself by organizing perspective-gathering hearings in Syracuse, Buffalo, East Farmingdale, Watertown, Albany and New York City. The corporate restaurant industry unsurprisingly came out in full-force at these hearings to spread doomsday scenarios regarding such an executive order, arguing that tipping culture will collapse and small food businesses will go out-of-business en masse. Despite this fear-mongering from shadowy industry groups, the facts on the matter are pretty clear. A Restaurant Opportunities Center study in seven states that have opted to abolish the sub-minimum wage found that servers make equal or better tips and experience less sexual harassment.
So long as Cuomo occupies office, he has the authority to make New York the first “one fair wage” state on the East Coast. If you’re a supporter of workers in overlooked tipped professions ranging from restaurant service to nail salon technicians, let your governor know that the time is NOW for executive action to end the two-tiered wage system for workers across NYS. Make him feel the heat of Nixon’s campaign, and hold him accountable to a larger progressive vision that will persist regardless of the primary outcome.
Christopher Hanna ’18