While Cynthia Nixon's announcement that she was launching a Democratic primary against Gov. Andrew Cuomo gained worldwide attention this week, she's not the only insurgent taking on his administration this year.
Last month, New York City Councilman Jumaane Williams launched his own candidacy for lieutenant governor – the position second in line to the governorship that's currently held by Kathy Hochul, a former Western New York congresswoman who was Cuomo's 2014 running mate.
In light of Nixon's announcement this week, some political insiders are raising a question: Would it make sense for Nixon, the "Sex and the City" actress and long-time activist, and Williams, himself a highly outspoken liberal, to team up against Cuomo and Hochul?
Unlike presidential elections where a president and vice-president are on the same ticket, in New York, the governor and lieutenant governor run for office separately. So Nixon's under no obligation to run any race but her own. Nor is Williams.
But some political observers say Williams, who is black, could help Nixon, who is white, reach voters in minority communities in New York City communities and elsewhere that have been electoral bulwarks for Cuomo.
One possible complication is that Wiliams has had evolving views on social issues that have hurt political ambitions in the past, although Williams said in an interview this week that they are now entirely in-line with Nixon's.
"She knows my stances on those issues and I don't know why there would be any problem," Williams said. "I support marriage equality and safe and legal abortion."
Williams said that his campaign staff has had contact with Nixon's operation, but that he had not had a discussion with her about joining forces.
"I'm still focused on my candidacy for lieutenant governor," Williams said, noting that it was still early in the election season.
When Nixon declared her candidacy, Williams tweeted that Cuomo had "earned a primary" and called Nixon another "great" candidate in the race. Williams said that he would not be voting for Cuomo, who has only paid "lip service" on issues from housing to education, he told the Times Union, but he has not endorsed anyone else.
Asked about the possibility of teaming up with Williams, a spokeswoman for Nixon said she was focusing on "introducing herself to voters first" and not yet on other races.
When Cuomo first ran for re-election in 2014, he faced Zephyr Teachout, a little-known academic who nonetheless managed to win 34 percent of the Democratic primary vote. Teachout did well upstate, but Cuomo won convincingly among minority voters in New York City. Political observers note that in Democratic primaries, white progressives in the mold of Nixon do not always do best among minority voters – a prime example being the 2016 Democratic primary between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton.
If the usually little-noticed lieutenant governor race gets any attention, Williams has a record that could appeal to minority voters. During his more than eight years on the New York City Council, Williams has built a significant legislative record on issues such as stop-and-frisk, racial profiling, combatting gun violence and tenant protections. An affordable housing advocate before his election, Williams has an activist reputation and has been arrested numerous times during peaceful demonstrations, including a recent protest against the detention of an immigrant rights activist.
"Jumaane is a wild and crazy guy, and I think that's what makes him real," said Michael McKee, the treasurer of Tenants PAC, a housing rights group. "How many elected officials put themselves on the line? How many times during his eight years on the City Council has he been arrested? Not many elected officials have the guts to do that."
Tenants PAC endorsed Williams earlier this week and gave him a $1,000 campaign contribution. Williams also has the backing of the activist group People for Bernie and several Brooklyn and upstate elected officials.
Asked if the liberal Working Families Party might back Williams, who the party has supported in past elections, state director Bill Lipton said only, "Our 232 members of the state committee have an important decision to make. Stay tuned!"
In 2013 and again in 2017, Williams launched bids for New York City Council speaker. Each time, questions about whether he personally held socially conservative views hurt his bids.
A Politico New York article last year stated that while he supported socially liberal positions as a matter of public policy, Williams personally believed marriage should be between a man and a woman, and that he felt expectant fathers were too often left out of the conversation when it comes to the issue of abortion. His positions were described as rooted in religious beliefs and his own personal experience with a pregnancy that was terminated without his consultation.
In a subsequent letter last year to his City Council colleagues, Williams wrote that his positions had been mischaracterized, and that he unequivocally supports gay marriage and abortion rights.
"Like many of us, I'm sure, I have views and beliefs which have developed and progressed throughout a lifetime of experiences, conversations and engagement with people all across our city," he wrote. "Constant among them is the promotion of equality, equity, and access to healthcare for all New Yorkers, a fundamental principle for which I've long worked and on which I would never relent or compromise."
Williams also abstained from voting on a bill in 2014 that allowed transgender people to change their sex on their birth certificate, saying he had not sufficiently researched the bill.
Some in the LGBTQ community are newly open to supporting Williams. Earlier this week, Allen Roskoff, a prominent gay rights activist who is president of the Jim Owles Liberal DemocraticClub, met with Williams and came away convinced that Williams truly had evolved.
Roskoff said Williams stands a good chance of getting his club's endorsement when it picks candidates in June, despite the fact that Cuomo in 2011 pushed through the nation's first same-sex marriage law. "Because he's so far left on every other issue, he has a very good shot of being embraced by the left," Roskoff said.
Some political observers question the degree to which Williams could help Nixon make inroads in minority communities, including among African-Americans, whose political leadership in New York City is likely to largely side with Cuomo in 2018. Williams will face challenges fundraising. And his record pushing police accountability issues could prove to be a liability among some of the electorate.
There's also the outside chance that Williams could win his primary for lieutenant governor, while Cuomo wins reelection. That would put two lawmakers in opposition at the top of state government – a situation that Gov. Mario Cuomo faced when Cuomo won the Democratic primary for governor in 1982, but his running mate Carl McCall lost the lieutenant governor nomination to Alfred DelBello.
Williams said he wanted to redefine the job of lieutenant governor. Instead of spending his days at ribbon-cuttings and providing unwavering promotion of the governor's agenda in the model of Hochul, Williams said he would make it similar to New York City public advocate, a role that has often brought its officials into conflict with the New York City mayor.
Williams describes himself as someone who would be the "peoples' lieutenant governor, not the governor's lieutenant governor." He noted the scandals that had emerged from the recently-finished trial of former top Cuomo aide Joe Percoco as an instance where independent oversight had been needed.
"If I was there – if the office was used differently – how much of his behavior would have been caught earlier?" Williams said.
Photo: Bebeto Matthews, AP
Council members Jumaane Williams, far left, and Ydanis Rodriguez, far right, hold a press conference on behalf of Ravi Ragbir, second from right, a citizen of Trinidad and Tobago and executive director of the New Sanctuary Coalition of New York City, Wednesday Jan. 31, 2018, at New York City Hall. Williams and Rodriguez were arrested as they attempted to block authorities from taking Ragbir into custody on Jan. 11 after a routine check-in with immigration officials in New York. A federal judge on Monday ordered authorities to immediately release Ragbir on the grounds he hadn't been given enough time to say goodbye to his family.
Photo: MICHAEL M. SANTIAGO, New York Times
FILE -- Councilman Jumaane D. Williams listens to community members give their feedback on the Theater of War's reading of Sophocles' "Ajax," in New York, Jan. 18, 2018. This era’s influencers, more diverse in gender and race than the lions of the past, reflect how the city’s power base has evolved.
Photo: TIMOTHY A. CLARY, Getty
Cynthia Nixon meets with people at the Bethesda Healing Center on March 20, 2018 in Brooklyn, New York at her first event since announcing that shes running for governor of New York. Cynthia Nixon, the US actress who shot to fame as workaholic lawyer Miranda on "Sex and the City," jumped into the race for New York governor March 19, 2018, unveiling a progressive platform championing economic equality and eschewing big business.The 51-year-old declared her candidacy with a two-minute campaign video posted on Twitter that showed her at home with her wife and children, riding the subway, taking one of her children to school and speaking at liberal political causes. / AFP PHOTO / TIMOTHY A. CLARYTIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images
Photo: Jason DeCrow
FILE - In this Feb. 3, 2018 file photo, Cynthia Nixon, former star of "Sex and the City," is honored by The Human Rights Campaign with an HRC Visibility Award in New York. Nixon said on Twitter Monday, March 19, 2018 that she'll challenge Gov. Andrew Cuomo in New York's Democratic primary in September. Her announcement sets up a race pitting an openly gay liberal activist against a two-term incumbent with a $30 million war chest and possible presidential ambitions. (Jason DeCrow/AP Images for Human Rights Campaign, File)
Photo: TIMOTHY A. CLARY
Former Sex and the City star Cynthia Nixon speaks to people at the Bethesda Healing Center in Brooklyn, New York on March 20, 2018 at her first event since announcing that shes running for governor of New York. Cynthia Nixon, the US actress who shot to fame as workaholic lawyer Miranda on "Sex and the City," jumped into the race for New York governor March 19, 2018, unveiling a progressive platform championing economic equality and eschewing big business.The 51-year-old declared her candidacy with a two-minute campaign video posted on Twitter that showed her at home with her wife and children, riding the subway, taking one of her children to school and speaking at liberal political causes. / AFP PHOTO / TIMOTHY A. CLARYTIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images