ALBANY — Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday that Cynthia Nixon’s whispered maybe-primary challenge to him could be fueled by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. Or maybe Vladimir Putin?
During a conference call with reporters about the snowstorm, the Democratic governor — who has been positioning himself for a possible presidential bid in 2020 — was asked about the possibility that the “Sex and the City” star would challenge him later this year.
“I know you were asked briefly about the potential of Cynthia Nixon entering the race,” NY1 reporter Zack Fink said. “Do you interpret that in any way as the mayor either putting her up to it or pressuring her to get in as a way to sort of swipe at you?”
“Let me say this to that question,” Cuomo replied. “I think it was probably either the mayor of New York or Vladimir Putin. I’m going to leave it to you great investigative reporters to follow the facts and ferret out the truth.”
The governor cackled.
“Russian interference? Hahahaha,” Cuomo said before an operator moved on to another question.
A Cuomo spokesman explained the governor was joking that anybody — even the Russian leader accused of directing interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election — could be involved.
POLITICO reported Wednesday that Cuomo’s political team was caught off guard by Nixon, who has been talking with Democratic operatives Bill Hyers and Rebecca Katz about a possible campaign. Both have ties to de Blasio, with whom Cuomo has feuded over everything from tax policy to managing outbreaks of infectious diseases.
Asked for comment on Nixon’s ruminations, de Blasio spokesman Eric Phillips told POLITICO, “No, but I appreciate the offer.”
In an unrelated press conference Wednesday, de Blasio did not say exactly that he had encouraged Nixon to run, but said he was not surprised Cuomo was facing a challenge from his left, citing his own disagreements with the governor.
"I have real political differences with the governor and I'm very uncomfortable with how he's handled the Republican state Senate and the IDC, for example," de Blasio said, referring to the group of breakaway Democrats who are allied with Republicans, buttressing their control of the upper house. "I just think in the end there's a reckoning occurring all over this nation in our party. It's time for Democrats to be Democrats."
The mayor would not say if he was pushing Nixon directly, however.
"Shes a strong, independent woman who makes her own decisions so this is something you have to ask her what her choice is," the mayor said. "I haven't spoken to her in a while. I'm not going to go into conversations with a friend."
Cuomo allies leapt to the governor’s defense this week, saying his record of legalizing same-sex marriage, pushing for stricter gun controls, implementing a system of paid family leave and raising the minimum wage to $15 makes him a progressive leader who doesn’t just talk, but gets results.
On Wednesday morning, Cuomo’s team at the State Democratic Committee announced “a new campaign to build on New York’s legacy as the birthplace of the women’s rights movement and capture the momentum of the #MeToo movement by creating a national model to combat sexual harassment and protect choice.”
The governor has proposed legislation to create a uniform sexual harassment policy for government entities throughout the state and bar the use of taxpayer funds in settlements against harassing individuals.
Later on the conference call, Cuomo suggested that Nixon — who has also been an outspoken advocate for gay rights and public school funding — doesn’t have that much star power.
“Normally, name recognition is relevant when it has some connection to the endeavor,” Cuomo said. “But if it’s just about name recognition, I’m hoping that Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie and Billy Joel don’t get into the race. If it’s just about name recognition, that would really be a problem.”
And while de Blasio and Cuomo agree on very little these days, the mayor also did not rule out the possibility that the Russian president may be playing a role in the Nixon candidacy.
"I think it's very important you call Vladimir Putin to ask him," he told reporters.
Edward-Isaac Dovere contributed to this report.