Side by side, the New York candidates’ differences shone

By Saira Khan

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending a Q.A. at Mic’s headquarters in TriBeCa, hosted by Mic’s founder Jake Horowitz, between Cynthia Nixon, who is running for governor of New York City, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, from the Bronx, the 28-year-old who is poised to become the youngest Congresswoman ever.

The conversation was brief, a little less than an hour, and the format was simple: Horowitz asked the questions, the women answered. Nixon and Ocasio-Cortez, who are both Democratic Socialists, are among the record number of women running for office this year, in light of Trump’s election, no doubt.

Until November of last year, Ocasio-Cortez was a bartender in the Bronx. Nixon, who most of us recognize from “Sex and the City” fame, is an Emmy-award winning actress, who has been in the industry since 1980. Neither woman has any experience in politics. And that’s about all they have in common.

Seeing them speak, side-by-side, I was struck by how animated and earnest Ocasio-Cortez was, and by comparison, how rehearsed Nixon was, who name-checked Governor Andrew Cuomo whenever she could. While Nixon still has a fight ahead of her at the polls, her attacks on Cuomo felt like a distraction from the fact that she didn’t seem to have much to contribute. The first question that Horowitz asked was about the Trump Administration’s immigration policy, which Nixon deflected to Ocasio-Cortez, initially making it seem like she was giving Ocasio-Cortez, a Latina, the space to answer. But as the event progressed, Nixon deflected more and more of the questions to Ocasio-Cortez, who, at one point, even asked Nixon if she had anything to add, noting that she had been doing most of the talking.

The only time when Nixon shone was when Horowitz asked her about possibly running under another party’s ballot in the event that she loses the Democratic primary, similar to rumors that are floating around about Joe Crowley, who lost the primary to Ocasio-Cortez.

“I want to point out though that Governor Cuomo may also face the same situation when I win the Democratic primary. I’m not the only person on another ballot line. Andrew Cuomo is actually on two different ballot lines… I don’t mind being asked this question, what I do mind is how Andrew Cuomo is never asked this question.”

Ocasio-Cortez, on the other hand, elicited many “woos” from the audience, and while she started the event guarded, by the end she let the Bronx-girl in her out–calling out male politicians for holding women back. I’m going to include the full, long quote here because it feels like a disservice to Ocasio-Cortez to edit this down:

“Congress is 80% male, that’s embarrassing y’all. Congress is 80% male which means that there are massive blind spots in how we pursue legislation that deals with health care, equal rights, pay, etc, but also I think that when government is so overwhelmingly male, Cynthia Nixon would be the first female governor of the state, when government is so overwhelmingly male, the only way for us to get seats is to be given permission to run. So then we have to cause trouble to claim our seat, we have to. People are saying ‘oh you’re doing this, you’re destroying the party, you’re too young, you’re not ready, you’re naive, you’re uneducated, blah blah blah.’ That is what I’ve been told and that is what women have been have been told their whole lives whenever they want to do anything ambitious so you know what? Screw it. They’re gonna say it, cause some trouble, get that 50%, get that parity, get that gender-expanding representation in office, cause you gotta claim it, you gotta take it. Cause I’m sorry, sorry, if I’m gonna wait for the 80% of dudes in Congress to give me permission, I’m gonna be 80 by then!”

It’s hard to argue with Ocasio-Cortez’s point, but with the primary a little less than three months away, I’m alarmed by Nixon’s lackluster performance–she’s taking on a seven-year incumbent from a political family, and is polling 36 points behind. Nixon may have taken on some of Ocasio-Cortez’s platform, but what she really needs to do is soak up some of her authenticity, otherwise, come September, she’ll be in trouble.

You can watch parts of the QA here.