Cynthia Nixon Meets the Ethnic Media

Cynthia Nixon addressing community and ethnic media on Sept. 6 (Photo by Karen Pennar for Voices of NY)

A week ahead of the New York State primary, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon had her first formal briefing with the community and ethnic press in New York’s El Barrio, and promised to pursue a wide range of progressive policies that would protect immigrants and address problems with housing and schools. Former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who has endorsed Nixon, said that she “is running an incredibly passionate grass-roots campaign, an inclusive campaign that speaks to all sectors of our state, particularly our city.”

In her opening remarks in a studio at the MNN El Barrio Firehouse Community Media Center, Nixon noted that attacks on immigrants in the U.S. and on people of color are occurring “frankly in an unprecedented way at least within my own lifetime.” In New York State, she said “we have not only an opportunity, I think we have an obligation to fight back against the Trump agenda and to come together as New Yorkers across various populations and say ‘not in my name, you do not represent me and you certainly do not represent the values of the United States.'”

She noted that we “hear a lot” about New York as a sanctuary state, but that “I have to say it’s largely rhetorical.” She said the DREAM Act giving Dreamers access to higher education, and the Liberty Act to prevent local law enforcement from cooperating with ICE “should have passed a long time ago,” and blamed Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s empowerment of the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), which aligned itself with Republicans in the State Senate, for the failure of those bills to pass. She also said that as governor she would by executive order permit undocumented residents to obtain driver’s licenses. Numerous people have, by virtue of being unable to produce this form of ID, been detained, and she said she was “shocked” that the incumbent governor had not moved to make driver’s licenses available to undocumented residents of the state. “It’s the simplest, most effective, quickest thing that we could do” to stop a number of detentions.

She also faulted Gov. Cuomo for not doing enough to include minority- and women-owned businesses in the renovation of LaGuardia Airport, and said that the contracting should not include “carve outs” for local corporate donors, as she said the awarding of contracts by the Cuomo administration has done. When the time comes for work at JFK Airport, she promised she would not sign any contract unless there was 35 percent minority and women-owned business participation “across the board” – for employers, employees, lawyers, architects, small business owners, restaurant owners in the concourse and the like.

On housing she said she’s “very aware” of how landlords prey on renters, and she said that vacancy decontrol, preferential rent and other loopholes need to be addressed. “Luxury developers are people that we need to restrain, they have the run of the city right now,” said Nixon. “We need to stop the luxury development and we need to be building affordable housing in communities that are gentrifying because not only do we have an incredible and growing homelessness problem, but we are causing so many New Yorkers, not just in New York City but across the state…to be nomads, to move from neighborhood to neighborhood to neighborhood, and from city to city to city and getting pushed farther and farther away from their homes in an attempt to find somewhere they can afford to live and then eventually just being pushed out of the state altogether.”

On education, which Nixon has made her signature issue for several years, the activist said she wants to reverse the underfunding and criminalization of schools that disproportionately serve students of color. She also said that she endorses a plan to diversify enrollment in the city’s specialized high schools by eliminating the sole reliance on an entrance exam.

In Sing Tao Daily, Rong Xiaoqing reports about Nixon’s response to her question about the two issues that have turned the Chinese community against City Hall this summer – the specialized high school reform proposal and the city’s plan to build a new jail in Chinatown. (The excerpts were translated by Rong Xiaoqing.)

…[Nixon] said she supports Assemblyman Charles Barron’s bill, which basically outlines the mayor’s specialized high school reform. “Two-thirds or 67% of our New York City students are Black or Latino but only 10% of the student body at the specialized high schools is,” Nixon said. “We obviously need a change. We need to diversify and we need to give people access to what is the finest free public education that you can receive in NYC.”  But, she said, what’s more important than specialized high school reform is to push the state to release the $4.2 billion equitable funding it owes to the school district. “Rather than fighting for these few spots in schools we need to invest and make every school a sought-after school, a high-quality school.”

 Nixon said she supports reducing the population of detainees by legalizing recreational marijuana, speeding up cases and decriminalizing minor offenses. But she believes the jails on Rikers Island should be shut down, and when it happens, the detainees there will have to be distributed to other places.  “Each borough should have a jail,” Nixon said.

But she emphasized that community members should be given a chance to speak their views. “I think that it is very, very important to make sure that anytime you’re making a change or considering a change, that the community is included,” said Nixon.

Nixon also mentioned that after talking to Asian community leaders, she realized that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement doesn’t only target Hispanic immigrants, and Asians are often arrested too. “We should pay more attention on this. They also need legal services,” Nixon said. In addition, immigrants applying for green card or citizenship are easy preys for immigration frauds. “There needs to be better oversight,” she said.

At the end of the one-hour session, Haitian Times founder and publisher Garry Pierre-Pierre asked Nixon what her internal polling told her about her chances and what she would do if she didn’t manage to gain the Democratic nomination on Sept. 13. Noting a number of recent upsets in special primaries that have elevated progressive Democratic candidates, Nixon added that fewer than 600,000 people voted in the Democratic gubernatorial primary, and that over the past two years 583,000 new Democrats have registered to vote in New York State. “I am feeling very confident, but whatever happens, I love my city and I love my state and certainly there have been a whole host of issues that I have been fighting on for decades including LGBTQ equality and women’s rights, abortion rights but most especially for education.

“It is unforgivable how unequally we fund education,” she said, vowing that she will continue to fight to get more funds for low-income schools as she has for 17 years. “Whatever happens on Thursday, I’m not going anywhere.”

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