New York Governor Andrew Cuomo won a solid Democratic primary victory on Thursday, defeating insurgent challenger Cynthia Nixon by a 65-35 margin. Two other insurgents, anti-corruption campaigner Zephyr Teachout, who ran for attorney general, and New York City Councilman Jumaane Williams, who ran for lieutenant governor, went down to defeat as well. That was a downer for activists who had hoped to see primary upsets, like the June win by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who rocked the politics with her Democratic primary defeat of the party’s fourth-ranking leader in the House.
Headlines that only paid attention to the top of the ballot portrayed the last big primary night of 2018 as a triumph for Cuomo and status-quo politics. But those headlines do not tell the whole story of what happened on Thursday night.
The most dramatic story is of a revolution in New York politics. And it is found in down-ballot results that will reshape the New York legislature as a dramatically more progressive force in state government.
Despite New York’s liberal reputation, progressive initiatives have been repeatedly thwarted in recent years not just by Cuomo’s caution and compromises but also by a working coalition of state Senate Republicans and Democratic legislators associated with the now-defunct “Independent Democratic Conference.” Even when Democrats won elections, and should have controlled legislative chambers, Republicans still called the shots on many issues.
The IDC became a symbol of the corrupt compromises, and corporate influence, that made “Albany” a watchword for everything that’s been disappointing about New York politics. As progressive reformers organized challenges to IDC-aligned senators in this years primaries, the group was disbanded. But that did not protect them from the wave of progressive energy that—while it may not have turned statewide contests—flipped the seats that mattered.
All eight state senators who had been associated with the IDC were challenged in Democratic primaries Thursday. Six of them lost to progressives. Those primary finishes, which are likely to be followed by November wins in overwhelmingly Democratic districts, promise a big shift in Albany. They will move the legislature and state government to the left.
The biggest victory for the challengers—and for the unions and grassroots activists with groups such as the Working Families Party and Citizen Action of New York that campaigned against the IDC-tied incumbents—was that of Alessandra Biaggi, who got a lot of street-level and social-media campaign help from Ocasio-Cortez for her challenge to a former IDC leader Jeffrey Klein. “We have now cut the head off the IDC snake,” the challenger announced at her raucous victory party.