Stuck in an edgy, unexpected primary fight with actress Cynthia Nixon, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo welcomed the cavalry Wednesday as the state Democratic convention kicked off at Hofstra University on Long Island.
Speaking as President Donald Trump met with law enforcement and local leaders only a half-hour away in Bethpage, Hillary Clinton endorsed Cuomo in a brief address to delegates, shortly after 95% of them voted earlier to nominate the governor for a third term. Former Vice President Joe Biden is expected to do the same on Thursday.
“We need leaders who stand up for progressive values and stand up to those who try turn neighbor against neighbor and sow seeds of division,” said Clinton, who never mentioned Trump by name. “Most of all we need leaders who believe in producing results and getting things done.”
While casting Cuomo as the experienced executive best suited – better, it seemed clear, than Nixon, who has never held office – to push back on the Trump administration agenda, Clinton also touted Stacey Abrams’ Democratic primary victory Tuesday in Georgia, saying she was “really inspired by women who are making their voices heard like never before.”
Cuomo, who wasn’t scheduled to appear here on Wednesday, greeted Clinton onstage after her speech with a bouquet, then complimented her during a chat with reporters afterward.
“Having Hillary Clinton here is a great treat,” he said. “You know, we now talk about female empowerment and the #MeToo movement. Hillary Clinton was in many ways, in my opinion, a great champion for women empowerment when it was hard. And she really was a pioneer.”
Clinton’s return to the big stage at Hofstra University, where she and Trump first debated in 2016, brought back some pleasant memories for the former Democratic presidential nominee. “It was a great night,” she recalled. “Mostly because I won.” But the stagecraft this time out left Cuomo’s opponents cold – annoyed by the tone of a convention that often felt more like a rally for the incumbent, who holds a considerable but slightly narrowing lead in the primary polls.
“It seems that when we’re talking about party unity, it’s the establishment telling the left to shut up,” Nixon’s potential running mate Jumaane Williams, a city councilman from Brooklyn and candidate for lieutenant governor, said before Clinton’s speech. “The left, which I identify with, has been right on these issues. We’re the ones who’ve made it safe for establishment Democrats to talk about. That should be honored at some point.”
Nixon, who sat in the first few rows on the left side of the stage, heard boos at times when delegates voted for her during the nomination process. She was in the arena for the first few hours, doing interviews and chatting to delegates, but left before Clinton made the scene.
On her way out, Nixon attributed her struggles to gain a foothold – and an automatic place on the Democratic ballot – to Cuomo’s outsize sway on the party, calling him a “dynastic governor.” His father, the late liberal lion and former Gov. Mario Cuomo, served three terms in office from 1983 to 1994.
Earlier in the day, Nixon, speaking to press at a nearby Long Island Rail Road stop, insisted that she was no “protest candidate” and, despite knowing how she would be received at the convention, refused to slink off.
“I am a viable candidate who is really running hard for the nomination,” she said. “I’m here, you can’t shut me out, you can’t ignore me.”
In brief remarks, Nixon renewed her campaign attacks on Cuomo’s record, which includes considerable liberal achievements but has fallen short, progressive opponents argue, in key areas like voting and campaign finance reform.
She also re-upped her invitation for a one-on-one showdown with Cuomo.
“If he’s so confident about his progressive record, why won’t he agree to a debate – why we won’t he set a date and a place?” she asked. “The fact of the matter is, he isn’t very confident about his progressive record because it’s incredibly meager. It’s why he’s attacking and his allies are attacking the progressive community groups that are supporting my candidacy.”
The small but influential Working Families Party, which nominated Nixon for its ballot line, has felt that hurt. On Wednesday, it sought to undermine Cuomo’s anti-Trump message by pointing to recent reports that the governor had, in the past, received the support of former and current administration officials, like Anthony Scaramucci and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin.
Meanwhile, Cuomo’s Democratic gubernatorial challenger in 2014, Zephyr Teachout, who was briefly a part of Nixon’s campaign before breaking off to explore a bid for state attorney general in the wake of Eric Schneiderman’s abrupt and damning departure, made the convention rounds and, in an interview, lamented the divisions in the party.
“I think the party has to recognize, at some point, that this isn’t the 1990s anymore,” she said. “It feels like it’s a top-down convention. There are great people here. I’m a delegate, actually, and I’ve gotten to know them. But there’s an overwhelming part of the party that is still really top-down and there’s a real problem when the governor uses the party as a passer for himself instead of a party.”
But for many inside Hofstra’s Mack Center, there seemed to be no meaningful distinction.
Those who might have arrived expecting a back-and-forth reflective of the ongoing campaign were quickly corrected by the clergy on hand – a pair of bishops who praised Cuomo in their morning invocation.
“The blessings that come from God is for all of those that have been called to be able to help their brother and sister,” they said. “Governor Cuomo has been called since his mother’s womb. His family was chosen so that they may be able to lead us.”