Like many rural and small-town New Yorkers, I would crawl naked across an ocean of jagged glass shards to vote against anyone surnamed Cuomo. Thankfully no such vitreous voyage was necessary during last week’s primary, though I did prick my finger opening a chestnut husk.
I suppose this was an apposite wound, for the incumbent governor, Andrew Cuomo, is considered by all and sundry, even his supporters, to be a nonpareil prick, while his challenger, actress Cynthia Nixon, is a noted eschewer of pricks of late, though she promised to kick against a few in Albany.
I walked down to the firehall, where I was, as usual on primary day, one of the very few registered Democrats in sight. Our county has been solidly Republican (and before that Whig and Anti-Masonic) since antebellum days, but I registered Democrat on the day I turned 18 and have never been tempted to join the Bush party. (New York bars those who register independent from voting in primaries, thus foreclosing that logical option, at least for me.)
My grandfather Kauffman, who as a young man looked like Jimmy Stewart and as an old man worked the counter at Marshall’s newsstand, ran for city council, and lost, in the 1940s as a Democrat. My maternal grandmother, a feisty Italian — Northern Italian, almost Swiss, she assured us — despised Nixon (the straight one who was elected president) and believed that the Republicans were for the rich and the Democrats for the workers. So for these two long-dead and much-loved grandparents, and them alone, I remain a registered Democrat, even though George McGovern and Al Smith are the party’s only presidential candidates I’d have voted for over the last century.
The primary ballot this year was especially galling. The eight candidates for governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general seemed to be running against Donald Trump, the Great Satan who won our county by a better than 2-1 margin in 2016. In the eyes of New York’s Democratic leaders we are minions of the Dark Lord, and thus the enemy. They prefer every other demographic group in the state to ours: they tell us so every day, in every way.
Struggling dairy farmers, the continuing exodus of our young, the opioid infestation, the truly astonishing number of suicides in the 18-45 age group, the to-hell-with-it frustration begat by a system in which the better part of every county and school district budget is effectively dictated by state mandates: these concerns of we utterly powerless hicks were beneath notice by the candidates.
And yet New York Democrats believe the reason so many of my neighbours voted for Donald Trump is that they were hypnotised by Russians! Even now, the helots are said to be uncomprehending: don’t they realise the mortal threat posed by the National Rifle Association? (The next NRA member to commit a murder in our county will be the first.)
I voted for Cynthia Nixon purely on anti-Cuomo grounds. Plus she did get off the sole witticism of the campaign. Back in 1982, Andrew’s father Mario defeated New York City Mayor Ed Koch in a bruising gubernatorial primary. The cunningly sanctimonious Mario was aided by posters bearing the verse of some anonymous poetaster: ‘Vote for Cuomo, Not the Homo.’ Rumour, never confirmed, had it that young Andrew had a role in all this.
So when Nixon declared her candidacy, she did so by reciting, with a smile, ‘Vote for the Homo, Not for Cuomo.’
Well played, Cynthia!
Cuomo beat Nixon (not the straight one, not the president) by about a 65-35 per cent margin. His loyal lieutenant governor, Kathy Hochul, an Upstater who now does a passable imitation of a New York City establishment liberal, edged her Black Lives Matter opponent. The Attorney General nominee, Letitia James, promises to ‘vigorously’ go after Trump. Ho-hum.
The next move belong to Cynthia Nixon. If she remains on the labour-backed Working Families Party line, she could draw enough votes to annoy Andrew Cuomo, inspirit Republican Marc Molinaro, and give New Yorkers the most competitive gubernatorial race in years.
There are times when I wish it were 1974 again, and I was a kid sliding handbills for Hugh Carey (for governor) and Ramsey Clark (for senator) under car windshield wipers, and I still cared.
Bill Kauffman is the author of 11 books, among them Dispatches from the Muckdog Gazette (Henry Holt) and Ain’t My America (Metropolitan).