NEW YORK — Actress Cynthia Nixon, who for months has teased her interest in challenging Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, has engaged in talks with a pair of veteran Democratic political operatives, a sign that she may be moving closer to a decision on whether to run this year, according to people familiar with the situation.
A longtime education activist, Nixon has also been studying up on other policy areas, in particular transportation policy, according to two people familiar with Nixon’s activities. The ongoing woes of New York City’s subway system, which are run by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority — overseen by Cuomo — are widely seen as one of Cuomo’s greatest political vulnerabilities.
Nixon has been openly critical of Cuomo for many months as she has mulled a campaign. But her conversations with two Democratic strategists, Bill Hyers and Rebecca Katz, who are aligned with the party’s left flank in the state, appear to be a sign of her growing seriousness.
Rebecca Capellan, Nixon’s publicist, declined to comment on what conversations Nixon has had with Hyers or Katz, which were first reported by a New York television station. Hyers and Katz are former top advisers to Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has feuded with Cuomo for years. Neither Hyers nor Katz responded to requests for comment.
“Many concerned New Yorkers have been encouraging Cynthia to run for office, and as she has said previously, she will continue to explore it,” Capellan said in a statement. “If and when such a decision is made, Cynthia will be sure to make her plans public.”
If a race between Nixon and Cuomo does materialize, it would instantly become one of the most intriguing Democratic primaries in the country, pitting a celebrity first-time candidate with an ability to command national media attention versus a two-term incumbent sitting atop $30 million and known for his aggressive political tactics.
Nixon, best known for her role in the “Sex and the City” franchise, would also be New York’s first female and openly gay governor, if elected.
Nixon’s Instagram feed has showed her making visits in 2018 across New York, including in Montauk, Skaneateles and Binghamton. (In Binghamton, she posted a photo of a Muhammad Ali mural with the words, “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.”)
Cuomo brushed off Nixon’s possible challenge and the involvement of former de Blasio operatives in an unrelated conference call with reporters on Tuesday. “In this business,” Cuomo said with a laugh, “you can’t let these things bother you. Otherwise you won’t last long.”
Cuomo was first elected governor in 2010 and is running for a third term.
Polls show he remains popular among the broader Democratic electorate in New York, but he is deeply disliked by an impassioned cohort of liberal activists. Four years ago, Zephyr Teachout, a virtually unknown challenger when she launched her long-shot bid against him, secured 34 percent of the primary vote.
Nixon’s celebrity would represent a unique challenge for Cuomo because of her ability to garner media interest. After her name was first floated as a possible candidate in August, she talked about the race on NBC’s “Today” show.
“There are a lot of people who would like me to run for a variety of reasons,” she said then.
A few months earlier, she appeared on ABC’s “The View,” where she took Cuomo to task for “shortchanging the children of New York.”
Nixon, a spokeswoman for the union-backed Alliance for Quality Education for years, joined Twitter in December and quickly amassed 25,000 followers while sending only 41 tweets, most of them about politics. She has 300,000 followers on Instagram.
In January, she headlined an event for millennial women, where she told reporters she was “maybe” running for governor. And in remarks after a recent Broadway show, Nixon again said she was considering a bid.
A Nixon candidacy would inevitably also be seen as another chapter in the long-running feud between de Blasio and Cuomo. Nixon was a regular presence on the campaign trail for de Blasio in 2013, and Nixon’s wife, Christine Marinoni, works in the de Blasio administration.
Nixon was on the stage in January as de Blasio was sworn in for a second term. Cuomo attended a different swearing-in.