Cynthia Nixon, accomplished actress and challenger to New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, wants to heat things up at the candidates’ Wednesday debate — by several degrees.
In an email to WCBS-TV, the station hosting Nixon and Cuomo’s sole debate ahead of the Sept. 13 Democratic primary, obtained by the New York Times, a senior adviser for Cynthia Nixon’s campaign requested that the debate hall temperature be set to 76 degrees.
Cuomo has a known appetite for chilly environs — in 2011 one lawmaker said he wanted his public appearances held, essentially, in “a meat locker.” Sweat during a debate can be ruinous for a politician, as then-presidential candidate Richard Nixon learned in the first TV debate against a cool John F. Kennedy in 1960.
Work environments are “notoriously sexist when it comes to temperature,” senior adviser Rebecca Katz wrote in her email to WCBS-TV.
Women suffering in cold workplaces during warmer months is well-documented. In 2015, The Washington Post’s Petula Dvorak launched her own investigation, talking to women she found sitting outside in D.C. on a hot and humid July afternoon.
All of the women she spoke with were outside for the same reason: to thaw out.
“I. Am. Fuh-reezing. Feel my hand — I’m still cold,” one woman said. The woman’s hand, according to Dvorak, felt like “a cold steak.”
While women complained of being “cold” and “freezing,” men had entirely different answers when asked if their offices were too cold. “It’s fine,” one said. “Nah, I don’t know what you’re talking about,” another responded.
A month later, a study published in Nature Climate Change, a peer-reviewed journal, revealed a fact women have known for years: Thermostats in offices are based on the assumption that all workers are male, specifically a 40-year-old weighing 154 pounds.
According to the researchers, temperatures are set using formulas that take into account a variety of factors meant to optimize a person’s thermal comfort, a state in which the body doesn’t need to shiver to produce heat or sweat to cool down. Two of the variables considered are clothing and metabolic rate, the amount of energy the body requires to function.
Every person’s metabolic rate is different because people aren’t all the same size and weight, nor do they have the same fitness level, the study said. The type of work being done also varies. In terms of clothing, women are more likely to favor lighter fabrics, short-sleeved tops and skirts in the summer, whereas many men still wear suits or jackets.
Social media was instantly alight as the 76-degree request, and subsequent invoking of sexism, reignited debate over what has been called the “thermostat patriarchy,” or the common practice of offices lowering temperatures in the summer to accommodate men in suits.
“Cynthia Nixon’s campaign asked for the debate hall tomorrow to be 76 degrees,” BBC producer Ashley Semler tweeted. “I wish I had this kind of power in my office and could ditch my two work sweaters.”
On Tuesday, however, many pushed back against Nixon’s desired temperature setting, arguing that 76 degrees is too warm for an indoor environment. Others pointed out that the debate hall will probably be full of people and broadcasting equipment, making the space warmer.
Katz said Tuesday that she has not heard back about changing the temperature and the station declined to comment on the situation, according to the Times. However, the 76-degree temperature was only meant to be a starting offer, the Times reported.
In a tweet, L. Joy Williams, a senior adviser to the Nixon campaign, wrote, “Maybe you say 76 degrees and get 65 degrees instead of freezing at 50.”
Cuomo’s campaign said it has not made any temperature-related requests, CNN reported.
"Unlike Cynthia Nixon, the governor has more important things to focus on than the temperature of a room,” Lis Smith, a spokeswoman for Cuomo, told CNN.
Regardless of what the thermostat says, Nixon told Refinery29 that nothing is keeping her from Wednesday’s debate.
“I’ll debate the governor in a parka if I have to because the people of New York deserve a debate, and insurgent, female candidates have a right to make their voices heard,” she said.