One of the most liberal states just rejected three queer candidates

Cynthia Nixon
Cynthia Nixon, in a video announcing she is running for governor of New YorkPhoto: Screenshot

New York state has a reputation for being one of the most liberal states in the nation. But tell that to Cynthia Nixon, Melissa Sklarz and Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney. The three high-profile queer candidates both lost their battles in the state Democratic primary Thursday.

Nixon, the bisexual actress best known for her role on Sex in the City, was always facing an uphill battle in her challenge to incumbent Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Cuomo, who has presidential ambitions, was taking no chances.

Still, she managed to capture about a third of the vote against a powerful incumbent who party regulars were loathe to cross for fear of retribution. Surprisingly, LGBTQ political groups also fell in line, largely keeping silent instead of endorsing Nixon.

Cuomo poured millions into television ads attacking Nixon, while Nixon had no TV ads due to lack of money. The fierceness of the attacks against an underfunded candidate sometimes crossed the line; a last-minute mailer from the Cuomo campaign suggested that Nixon was anti-Semitic. Nixon is not Jewish but is raising her two children as Jews. (Cuomo called the flier a “mistake.”)

Despite her loss, Nixon had an impact on Cuomo. As a progressive candidate, she hammered at the governor relentlessly as an establishment Democrat who was out of touch with the leftward direction of party voters. In response to that pressure, Cuomo shifted on a range of issues, including legalization of cannabis and voting rights for parolees.

Nixon is currently on the ballot in November, as a candidate for the Working Families Party. She hasn’t said whether she will withdraw as a candidate, ceding the field to Cuomo.

Melissa Sklarz was seeking the Democratic nomination for a New York State Assembly seat in the borough of Queens. Sklarz, who has been active in New York politics for almost 20 years, positioned herself as a progressive candidate (however, she endorsed Cuomo over Nixon).

Her opponent, Brian Barnwell, was a first-term incumbent who beat an establishment Democrat to win the seat two years ago. Barnwell prided himself on constituent service, which apparently paid off at the ballot box. Sklarz election would have made her the first trans member of the state legislature.

“This campaign was and will remain a great honor of my life, and my heart is filled with nothing but gratitude for the experience and to the people of the 30th Assembly District for giving me a fair hearing,” Sklarz said in a statement after her loss.

Maloney, an openly gay Congressman, had been seeking the Democratic nomination for state attorney general. He was facing winner Letitia James, who was appointed by Gov. Cuomo earlier this year when the previous attorney general resigned, and Zephyr Teachout, who had challenged Cuomo four years ago.

Maloney poured $1.4 million from his Congressional campaign funds into his bid, but without much success. He finished third, with 25 percent of the vote. “It’s never fun to lose; we like winning more, but you live and you learn,” Maloney said.

Of the three losers Thursday, Maloney is in the best shape. He is running for re-election to Congress, where he is considered a favorite.

“My future in public service will be decided in November, as it should be, by my neighbors in the 18th Congressional District,” Maloney said. “We don’t assume anything, since my career has always been improbable.”

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