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Long live the Cynthia effect

By Yair Oded

Oct 1, 2018

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Despite the hopes and dreams of some of us, renowned actress and gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon conceded to her two-term incumbent, Governor Andrew Cuomo. Yet, rather than frustration and dismay, following the elections, many of Nixon’s supporters seem to exhibit gratitude and hope, claiming that her campaign and presence on the political stage have brought numerous civil rights issues to the limelight, and etched them in the mainstream political discussion both in New York State and across the country.

It was clear from day one that Nixon’s aspiration to unseat a well-funded establishment politician such as Cuomo was ambitious and perhaps unlikely, given that despite her impressive record of activism work, she truly had no experience in navigating the political machine. Furthermore, Nixon’s campaign has made several rookie mistakes along the way and occasionally failed to back up an idealistic agenda with practical solutions in order to give people the sense that Nixon was more than a well-intentioned celebrity, but actually had the capability of sitting at the helm and undertaking the highly complex task of governing a state.

It isn’t unreasonable to argue that Nixon should have opted for a lower position as her starting point, such as Congress or State Senate, and climb her way up from there. At the same time, it’s important to recognise that her campaign wasn’t just about winning the governor’s seat, for the ‘Cynthia effect’ has transcended the office and even the candidate herself. Nixon’s campaign has in fact echoed the outcry of segments of the population who have to date been largely ignored by the state and federal governments; she gave a voice and a presence to marginalised groups, such as working class families, racial minorities, and LGBTQ people, who have had little to no representation in the political sphere.

Indeed, despite having a much heftier campaign budget and a broader support network, Gov. Cuomo got on the defence as soon as Nixon announced her candidacy. Nixon did not only further expose Cuomo’s corruption and made it a national talking point, but also urged him to incorporate civil and environmental issues into his platform. Anxious to win over Nixon’s voters and appear as benevolent and socially-conscious as she, Cuomo has shifted his attention to areas he systematically neglected over the years. For instance, he announced his intention to funnel hundreds of millions of dollars to fix the ‘emergency state’ of NYC public housing, take action to restore the voting rights of felons on parole, and levy a fee on plastic bags. All of these issues were initially advocated for by Nixon. Nixon’s platform has also affirmed the socio-political nature of issues such as marijuana and the New York City subway system, with marijuana arrests disproportionately affecting racial minorities and the Subway’s decrepit condition under Cuomo debilitating the mobility of working and lower income classes. Cuomo has recently rescinded his longtime objection to legalising marijuana and has made fixing the Subway a priority.

It remains to be seen whether Gov. Cuomo will go through with his recent pledges to civil rights, working class, and environmental issues and whether his Nixon-induced social awareness will survive the test of time. Regardless, Nixon has planted seeds of hope in the hearts of millions of New Yorkers who too often feel neglected by and invisible to the political establishment.

Evoking the power of her celebrity, and remaining loyal to her core principles and values, Nixon has drawn national attention to social and civil issues that are gradually becoming part of the national political discourse. She gave a significant boost to a new breed of socio-political activism in the country, which sets its sights on truly empowering individuals, as opposed to viewing them as a mere constituent.

This article was originally published by FAIRPLANET and is part of an ongoing content partnership.