Five takeaways from the state Democratic Convention

Gov. Andrew Cuomo greets former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the state Democratic convention Wednesday in Hempstead.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo greets former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the state Democratic convention Wednesday in Hempstead.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo greets former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the state Democratic convention Wednesday in Hempstead.

Five takeaways from the state Democratic Convention

It was the Cuomo show, but challengers still crashed the party.
May 23, 2018

The state Democratic Convention, at Long Island’s Hofstra University, concluded its first day of business with less than shocking results. Gov. Andrew Cuomo was formally nominated by the state Democratic Party for re-election, as was his running mate, Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, and state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli. New York City Public Advocate Letitia James, who garnered Cuomo’s endorsement on Tuesday, was the party’s pick for attorney general. Here are five major takeaways from the convention.

Moving forward, mostly with incumbents

The theme of the convention was “Moving Forward.” Despite the slogan, the convention supported a governor seeking his third term, a lieutenant governor aiming for a second term, and a comptroller hoping to enter his fourth term in office. Had former Eric Schneiderman not resigned in disgrace a few weeks ago, he too would likely have been backed by the party as he sought a third term.

The only fresh face at the convention was James, who was nominated for attorney general in Schneiderman’s place. James would be the first woman and the first African-American to serve as attorney general. She received over 85 percent of the convention vote, an announcement which was met with thunderous applause and followed by a pre-taped campaign video from James. In her speech afterward, she said the attorney general stood as a “vanguard” against the Trump administration.

“Our constitutional protections have never been at greater risk,” James said. “I’m so proud that you have bestowed on me this designation, because I am well prepared for the fight ahead.”

Challengers make a stand

Although the momentum was behind James from the beginning, the other two candidates seeking the Democratic designation, Leecia Eve and Zephyr Teachout, appeared at the convention to make their case – and garnered at least some support.

“Zephyr Teachout has been leading the legal resistance,” said Rachel Lavine, chairwoman of the state Democratic Committee Progressive Caucus, seconding the motion to designate Teachout. “We need Zephyr Teachout because these are no ordinary times, and we need an extraordinary attorney general.”

Eve was nominated from the floor. In an interview with City & State before the vote, Eve said that she was undaunted by the stiff competition she may face from James.

“At the end of the day, there are a few hundred people in that room,” Eve said. “On primary day, we as a party, and we as a state, should hope that millions of people will be going to the polls, and I will be on the ballot.”

New York City Councilman Jumaane Williams, who is challenging Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul in the primary for lieutenant governor, also made an appearance at the convention. Assemblywoman Rodneyse Bichotte, a fellow Brooklyn Democrat, presented a motion for him to be designated, but he received only 6 percent of the vote in the convention.

None of the challengers received enough of the convention vote to automatically get on the ballot line, and thus will have to obtain 15,000 petitions.

The Cuomo show

The event was less a conference of the state party than of Cuomo allies, beginning with Bishops Nancy and Angel Rosario, who gave the convocation. “His family was chosen so that they may be able to lead us,” the Rosarios said about Cuomo in Spanish and English during their prayer.

Supporters promoted Cuomo’s accomplishments, including passing more stringent gun regulations, legalizing same-sex marriage in the state and enacting a $15 minimum wage statewide. Three students who had been affected by gun violence – Aalayah Eastmond of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and New York students Christopher Underwood and Avalon Fenster – seconded the motion to designate Cuomo.

“Here in New York, rather than sit back, Andrew Cuomo takes action," said Eastmond, who survived the Parkland, Florida, shooting.

Cuomo mania extended beyond the governor – when his mother, Matilda Cuomo, completed the seconding process, she received a standing ovation.

"I feel, in many ways, Mario still lives through Andrew's work,” said Cuomo, referring to her husband, former Gov. Mario Cuomo. Throughout the convention, the audience engaged in chants of “four more years,” and Cuomo won more than 95 percent of the convention vote for the party’s nomination.

The Cuomo lovefest was capped by former New York senator and presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s speech endorsing Cuomo. Cuomo later told the press that he was “very gratified” by the support he was shown at the convention.

“I’ve been to a lot of conventions, and this was a really overwhelming show of support, frankly more than I expected, so it was a great day all around,” Cuomo said.

The Cynthia effect

Although Nixon received around 5 percent of the convention vote, her impact was felt throughout the convention. The strong display of pro-Cuomo sentiment at the convention was likely, in part, inspired by Nixon’s presence.

“I won't be scared out of the room. New Yorkers deserve a choice,” Nixon said at a press conference at Hempstead Transit Center shortly before she attended the convention.

On the convention floor, Nixon’s reception was as chilly as the hall’s air conditioning. Zakiyah Ansari, advocacy director for the Alliance for Quality Education, led the motion for Nixon to be designated governor, citing Nixon’s history as an education activist, while criticizing Cuomo for ignoring stories of poorer education for black and brown students. Educator Janice Warner and New York City Councilman Carlos Menchaca gave speeches to support the motion.

“We need a governor who will stand up not just for the few, and for the rich, but for the many. And her name is Cynthia Nixon,” Menchaca said.

Even as she left the convention early, Nixon still garnered attention. A gaggle of press followed her out the door, largely ignoring the pro-Cuomo speeches taking place at the same time.

Clinton’s homecoming

As expected, Clinton endorsed Cuomo in her speech to the convention floor in the afternoon. The speech was prefaced by a video listing Clinton’s accomplishments, including a few quotes from Cuomo. She referred to her speech as a “family reunion,” since she was returning to the state Democratic Convention for the first time since 2000. She also referred to her previous appearance at Hofstra University, at a presidential debate with Donald Trump in 2016. But the majority of the speech was focused on what it means to be a Democrat – support for universal health care, immigration reform, a woman’s right to choose – and then applying those values to Cuomo.

“We need leaders who believe in producing results and getting things done – leaders like Andrew Cuomo and Kathy Hochul,” Clinton said.

Although Clinton is a divisive figure around the country, in New York she remains an icon and was received with a standing ovation. When Cuomo addressed with her with flowers after the speech to thunderous applause, it seemed like a natural reunion of two Democratic politicians with centrist records who have struggled to win over progressives.

Grace Segers
is City & State’s digital reporter. She writes daily content on New York City and New York state politics.