For years, Nixon served as a spokeswoman for the Alliance for Quality Education, lobbying on the city and state level for increased and more equitable funding of public schools. She had given no thought to running for office until 2010, when two of her close friends in the advocacy world urged her to make a bid for governor. She dismissed the suggestion then, but four years later she watched as Zephyr Teachout, an upstate college professor with little money and zero name recognition, surprised Cuomo by capturing 33 percent of the primary vote despite the governor’s refusal to so much as mention her name. Then came Donald Trump’s election in 2016, which shocked progressives into a new burst of activism and inspired women across the country to run for office.
“I thought, ‘What am I scared of?’” Nixon told me. “If Zephyr can be so brave, think of all the advantages I have that she doesn’t have.”
Nixon had been active in New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s winning campaign in 2013, and she tapped two of his former advisers, Bill Hyers and Rebecca Katz, to help guide her gubernatorial bid. The mayor has professed no involvement in Nixon’s effort to unseat Cuomo, but it’s clear who she sides with in the long-running feud between the two powerful New York Democrats.
During our interview, Nixon and I were sitting in the kitchen of the Greenwich Village apartment she shares with her wife, Christine Marinoni, and their son, Max—a high-ceilinged, palatial-for-New York City home befitting an actress who’s won an Emmy, a Tony, and a Grammy. Though she began acting at age 12, it wasn’t until Nixon played Miranda for six seasons on HBO’s “Sex and the City” that she became a household name.
She’s used to attention, of course, but she told me the transition from regular celebrity to political celebrity is still an adjustment. “There are different ways as an actor that people have approached me,” Nixon said. “They ask to take a picture, or they try to talk to each other about me without my seeing, or they’ll talk loudly about their opinion of my show and not engage me.”
But if before some people would be hesitant in their approach, perhaps not wanting to invade her privacy, now they come right up. She’s asking for their vote, and they feel emboldened—empowered, even. “Now, everybody’s direct,” she told me. “Everybody’s direct all the time, which is frankly such a relief.”
Nixon is direct, too—especially when it comes to Cuomo. She blames him for the shabby state of New York’s subway system, once the pride of the city but now a source of mockery after years of decay and mismanagement by the transit authority principally controlled by the governor. She’s attacked Cuomo, a former housing secretary under President Bill Clinton, as a tool of the real-estate industry who’s done little to maintain any semblance of affordability in New York City and the downstate region. And Nixon regularly accuses him of “governing like a Republican”—a reference to budget austerity early in his tenure and his tacit support for a coalition of breakaway Democrats that for years allowed Republicans to control the state Senate.