The New York Times editorial board on Sunday weakened the already lukewarm endorsement of incumbent Andrew Cuomo that it had made just days earlier in New York state’s Democratic gubernatorial primary.

Despite some hesitation, or perhaps ambivalence, on Sept. 4 the board had stood by Cuomo, writing:

Mr. Cuomo is flawed. When he allows petty enmity and political grievance to distract him from his commitment to public service, he is his own worst enemy. But when he confronts a real problem and gets down to work, he is a very capable governor. … He merits one more chance to serve New York and fulfill his potential as governor.

On Sunday, however, the same editorial group demanded that Cuomo apologize to his opponent, activist and actor Cynthia Nixon, after the New York State Democratic Committee circulated a mailer that smeared her as “anti-Semitic.”

“This is dirty politics, nearly as sleazy as it gets,” the Times asserted in the first sentence of Sunday’s editorial. “This is the lowest form of politics, and the most dangerous, exploiting the festering wounds and fears along ethnic and religious lines.”

The Times wrote that the mailer promulgated a false claim that Nixon has been “silent on the rise of anti-Semitism” and incorrectly portrayed her stances on issues of concern to Jewish voters:

It says she supports the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement against Israel over its treatment of Palestinians. She does not. It accuses Ms. Nixon of opposing funding yeshivas, private religious schools attended by many of the city’s Orthodox Jews. She has never said that.

With anti-Semitism and bigotry on the rise, we can’t take a chance,” the mailer reads. “Re-Elect Governor Andrew Cuomo.”

Cuomo, for his part, has denied any responsibility for the mailer, stating at a press conference Saturday that he hadn’t seen or known about it.

This isn’t the first time Cuomo has had to publicly disclaim responsibility for below-the-belt tactics. In 1977, when he was working for his father Mario’s mayoral campaign against Ed Koch, he likewise denied responsibility for a poster that read “Vote for Cuomo, not the homo.” Politico dubbed that poster one of the worst political tricks of all time.

The Times’ board wrote that Cuomo’s denial that he had seen or known about such mailers “strains credulity.” In the newspaper’s view, “[t]he committee no doubt sent this garbage in the cynical hope that it would prove effective with Orthodox Jews, who generally vote as a bloc, making them a sought-after constituency for New York politicians.”

As of this writing, Cuomo had yet to apologize to Nixon or take any action that would “describe Ms. Nixon as a worthy opponent who abhors anti-Semitism,” which, according to the Times, “voters deserve to hear.”

Nonetheless, the Times stopped short of rescinding its endorsement; in Sunday’s piece, it suggested that “Mr. Cuomo deserves a third term because of his potential to lead.” This stance didn’t exactly go over well with some readers.

Labor journalist Sarah Jaffe took to Twitter, writing: “Well-off white men: they can be 60 years old, looking for a third term in office, and still we give them credit for having ‘potential.’ ” And writer David Klion chimed in, “The important thing is that Nixon deserves no chance to prove she could do better, ever, because she lacks Cuomo’s massive potential.”

As in many other political campaigns around the country, the stakes involved in the Nixon-Cuomo contest have to do with no less than the future of the Democratic Party—one factor among many that no doubt played into how the Times’ editorial board has handled this race.

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