Is it 1982 all over again?

Cynthia Nixon in a video unveiling her candidacy for New York governor. Courtesy
By Richard Barr

Almost immediately after Cynthia Nixon declared her challenge to Governor Andrew Cuomo for the Democratic Party nomination for governor this year, close Cuomo ally and former City Council Speaker Christine Quinn weighed in.

Nixon wouldn’t support a qualified lesbian for Mayor, Quinn said, but now wants an unqualified lesbian (Nixon herself) to be governor. She was referring to the fact that Nixon supported Bill de Blasio over her in the mayoral primary in 2013.

The remark was instantly declared a gaffe by commentators and characterized as tacky and tasteless. Quinn apologized for it (the lesbian part) and walked it back by the next day. Or did she?

Andrew Cuomo is a hard-nosed, hard-boiled political operative, well aware of what he is doing and why. Judging from Quinn’s time as Council Speaker, most of that could be said about her as well. Neither of them is likely to make public pronouncements that have not been thought out in advance.

It’s highly likely that many potential New York State voters are well aware that Cynthia Nixon is a prominent actress. A fair number may also be aware that she has appeared over the last several years at many public education events as an advocate. The fact that she is also in a same-sex marriage was probably known to fewer New Yorkers — they would have needed to pay much closer attention to her to know that as well.

But many of them know that now, because they’ve heard it as a result of the coverage of Quinn’s initial statement, whether she “apologized” for it the next day or not. This fact may not matter either way for some, may lead others to feel more positively about her, but may not sit well with still others. And that latter likelihood may well have been the intended purpose of the remark in the first place.

Which brings us way back in time, to 1982. Andrew Cuomo’s father, Mario, was in a Democratic primary for governor against NYC Mayor Ed Koch. His campaign manager was 24-year-old Andrew. Under Andrew’s watch, those with long political memories will recall, the Cuomo campaign carried signs saying “Vote for Cuomo, not the homo.”

It’s too simplistic to suggest that the more things change, the more they remain the same. Governor Cuomo has shown a sensitivity to the needs of the gay community in recent years, both in actions he has taken and in legislation he has introduced or supported. But that doesn’t necessarily rule out a bare-knuckles political operative utilizing whatever means he or she feels will gain an advantage over an opponent.

So maybe 2018 is 1982 all over again. But in a somewhat bizarre side twist, it may be 1972 all over again as well. After Cynthia Nixon announced, New York State Republican Party Chairman Ed Cox, happy that Cuomo will face intra-party opposition, pronounced that “Nixon’s the One.” He was hearkening back to the campaign slogan of his late father-in-law, Richard Nixon, when he ran for re-election in 1972.

Richard Barr was formerly a press secretary in the State Attorney General’s office and has worked in state political campaigns.