When it comes to primary elections, it can be difficult to distinguish the policy differences between the candidates. But in New York’s Democratic primary for governor, three key policy differences stick out between the two-term incumbent Andrew Cuomo and the progressive challenger he faces, Cynthia Nixon.


Nixon got her political start as an education advocate. She’s a proud public school supporter, and anti-charter schools. Nixon has criticized Cuomo for not doing enough to increase foundation aid for low-income school districts.

Cuomo frequently points out that education spending has increased since he took office, and is now at the highest level ever. In response to criticism that that money is not going to the students who need it most, in 2018 he push for new requirement for districts to disclose how much funding goes to each school.

Cuomo has also battled with the state teacher’s union after pushing for an evaluation system that was linked to student test scores during his first term. But this year, Cuomo backed a bill decoupling teacher evaluations from test scores, although the measure never passed the legislature.


Cuomo and Nixon agree that New York should adopt single-payer healthcare, but they differ on how to get there.

In their only gubernatorial debate, Nixon cited the RAND Corporation’s August report which analyzed the New York Health Act’s passage (the act would start the move toward single-payer healthcare in New York). She argued costs would significantly decrease for workers, employers and the state itself. Nixon echoed the report, saying funding would come from a payroll tax.

Cuomo agreed that a single-payer system works “in theory” and is the right idea “long term,” but coming up with the money to fund that transition—$200 billion—would eclipse the current state budget—$170 billion. He added that finding short-term funding would be difficult, and instead, the federal government should take the lead, and hopes Democrats will triumph this fall by winning a majority in Congress, bringing single-payer healthcare one step closer to reality.

Labor unions

New York current labor laws make it illegal for public union employees to go on strike, resulting in fines and penalties. This has been on the books since 1967, under what’s known as “Taylor Law.”

Nixon supports union workers’ right to strike. She said so in an August economic report and reiterated this claim during the gubernatorial debate, arguing labor unions need more independence from the political system and corporate pressure. Nixon added, ultimately, union workers don’t want to strike, but will do so if left with little to no alternative, and, the public will be sympathetic to their cause. Nixon has also said she is a member of the actors union.

In that same debate, Cuomo said not only do labor unions not want the right to strike, but the public blowback would be disastrous to the state economy. Teachers on strike would cause school closures, sanitation workers on the streets would result in a health crisis, and the shutting down of the MTA would cripple New York City’s subway system.

It’s worth referencing the governor’s tortured dance with the state’s labor unions: in both his 2010 and 2014 gubernatorial bids, he failed to receive labor endorsements, vowing in 2010 to take on the power of these bodies. He also slashed state pension system earnings in 2012. However, this election cycle we’ve seen the patching up of old wounds, as Cuomo has collected endorsements from dominant labor groups such as the AFLCIO and PEF.