The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Cold rooms ‘notoriously sexist’? Cynthia Nixon seeks 76-degree setting for Cuomo debate.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon arrives for a rally supporting universal rent control on Aug. 16 in New York. (Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images)

On Wednesday, New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and challenger Cynthia Nixon will take the stage for a highly anticipated event: the first and only debate scheduled between the two candidates ahead of next month’s Democratic primary.

The one-hour televised event will be Nixon’s first-ever political debate and Cuomo’s first one-on-one primary debate in more than a decade. On Tuesday, ahead of their public faceoff, Nixon and Cuomo clashed yet again, but it wasn’t over the New York subway system or the state’s income inequality — it was over a thermostat setting.

In an email obtained by the New York Times, Rebecca Katz, a senior adviser for the Nixon campaign, requested that WCBS-TV, the station hosting the debate, adjust the temperature in the debate hall at Hofstra University to a balmy 76 degrees.

Cuomo is well-known for wanting his public appearances to be made in chilled rooms, or as one local lawmaker described it in 2011, “a meat locker.” The worst fate for a politician in a televised debate is to sweat, as then-presidential candidate Richard Nixon learned in the first TV debate against a cool John F. Kennedy in 1960.

Cynthia Nixon’s team has previously accused WCBS-TV of catering only to the governor’s preferences.

“CBS management has acknowledged that the only way to get Governor Cuomo to show up is by giving him everything he wants,” Katz said in a statement posted to Nixon’s campaign website when the debate was announced. “We weren’t even given a seat at the table.”

Actress Cynthia Nixon said, she "would rather be the good Nixon than the bad Cuomo” during an appearance on "The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” on April 18. (Video: Amber Ferguson/The Washington Post)

But in her email to WCBS-TV, Katz cited another reason the temperature should be raised. Work environments, she wrote, are “notoriously sexist when it comes to temperature, so we just want to make sure we’re all on the same page here.”

Social media was instantly alight as the 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.”

Women suffering in cold workplaces during the 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.

Your office thermostat is set for men’s comfort. Here’s the scientific proof.

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.

“[C]urrent indoor climate standards may intrinsically misrepresent thermal demand of the female,” the researchers wrote.

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.

Even some members of Cuomo’s staff joined in.

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.

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