On the eve of Rosh Hashanah, just days before New York’s gubernatorial primary on Thursday, a mailer sent by the New York Democratic Party misrepresenting Cynthia Nixon’s views on Israel and accusing her of ignoring anti-Semitism has inspired widespread condemnation, forcing Governor Cuomo to assert that he did not approve it.
“I didn’t know about the mailer, I heard about the mailer, I haven’t seen the mailer,” he said at a press conference on Sunday. “The way I ran this campaign, it’s been on the issues, it’s been positive. I think the mailer was a mistake. I think it was inappropriate.”
The mailer charged Nixon with supporting the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement, which seeks to stigmatize Israel for its treatment of Palestinians within its borders.
The mailer also condemned Nixon, among other things, for being “silent on the rise of anti-Semitism.”
Nixon said on Sunday that she does not support BDS tactics, and never has.
The mailer was clearly meant to appeal to Jewish voters, likely conservative-leaning Hasidic and Orthodox Jews in particular. It’s not clear how many voters actually received it. One reporter’s source put the number at only 7,000. But once it gained widespread attention, condemnations came fast and furious. Nixon said on Twitter that the mailer constituted “not only an attack on my family, but on all New Yorkers.”
State Senator Liz Krueger called it “shameful.” Prominent labor leader Randi Weingarten, who supports Cuomo, and her wife, a rabbi whose synagogue Nixon attends, issued a statement calling any accusations of anti-Semitism against Nixon a “baseless lie.” (Nixon is not Jewish herself, but is raising two sons from a previous marriage Jewish.)
Mayor Bill de Blasio, who announced on Saturday that he would refrain from endorsing either candidate despite his acrimonious relationship with Cuomo, used his personal Twitter account to voice outrage:
As the indignation spread on Saturday night and continued into Sunday, Cuomo allies tried to contain the political fallout. Lis Smith, a strategist who works for both Cuomo and the New York Democratic Party, said on Twitter that “Governor Cuomo didn’t approve of or have any knowledge of the mailer in question. He disagrees with the language in it, believes it is inappropriate, and urges voters to focus on the real issues in this race.” But New York Times reporter Shane Goldmacher noted that Cuomo frequently gets his message out through the state’s Democratic Party.
Geoff Berman, the executive director of the New York State Democratic Party called the mailer a “mistake” — sidestepping the question of whether Cuomo approved it.
Later, Berman issued a statement saying, “The State Party sent out a wrong and inappropriate mailer — we will work with the Nixon campaign to send out a mailer of her choosing to the same universe of people.”
On Sunday, Nixon dismissed the idea that Cuomo could have been ignorant of the mailer. “I categorically don’t believe it,” she said. “He is the head of the party. He controls the Democratic state committee. The idea that he had no idea that this was happening is patently absurd.”
Though not as extreme a case, the incident was reminiscent of another notorious campaign-mailer episode in the run-up to a different Cuomo campaign:
According to polls taken last month, Cuomo enjoys a 30-plus-point lead in the contentious contest against Nixon. But in the closing days of the race, he has stumbled more than once. On Saturday, he was forced to delay the opening of a second span of the Mario M. Cuomo Bridge — named after his father — because of “potentially dangerous” structural problems with the Tappan Zee Bridge, the structure it is replacing. Just one day earlier, Cuomo had attended a grand opening for the new section of bridge, and its high-profile delay provided easy fodder for his opponent.
“A ribbon-cutting ceremony should not have been held if the bridge span was not yet safe,” Nixon said.