Cuomo to Face Challenge from the Left
By Cady Kuzmich
June 23, 2014
Fordham University Law Professor Zephyr Teachout formally launched her challenge against Gov. Andrew Cuomo in the Democratic primary this September.
Teachout’s announcement on June 16 in Albany came on the same morning as a Siena poll that shows Cuomo’s significant lead over Republican challenger Rob Astorino. Teachout’s candidacy was not referenced in the Siena poll which was conducted between June 8 and June 12 before she kicked off her campaign.
“We are confident that if this ends up being about people voting for what they want from New York, we’re going to win,” Teachout said during a press conference with her running mate Tim Wu, a professor at Columbia Law School. He coined the term “net neutrality” in 2003 and is a proponent for an open Internet.
“If New York gives us the chance to govern, we will build an economy that works for everyone, not just the wealthy and well-connected,” said Teachout in a video of the conference posted on the Oneida Daily Dispatch’s Web site.
During the press conference, Teachout recalled when Cuomo first took office. “Four years ago, Andrew Cuomo stood on the steps of a courthouse named after Boss Tweed and promised to clean up corruption in New York State. But he, as Governor Cuomo, has become the problem that candidate Cuomo promised to fix. The political system is still corrupt and rigged.”
She reminded those in the room that Cuomo took office at the height of the Great Recession, yet his policies still favored the wealthy. Teachout said that during the recession, Cuomo cut the corporate tax rate, eliminated the bank tax, raised the exemption on the estate tax and fought the extension of the millionaire’s tax “tooth and nail”. Cuomo “even said at one point that his opposition to the millionaire’s tax was the equivalent to his father’s opposition to the death penalty,” Teachout said. “These favors for friends masked as public policy came at the same time as he pushed for massive cuts to education funding. So this is his record. Governor Cuomo, in the wake of the deepest recession in America in 80 years, looted New York public schools to transfer money into the pockets of wealthy interests,” she said.
Teachout took aim at the governor’s education policy, saying, “Under his leadership, New York school districts have had to slash tens of thousands of educator jobs”. She marveled at the governor’s “audacity to blame teachers for our failing schools”. Noting that her first job after attending Yale was as a special education teacher’s aide, Teachout voiced her appreciation and support for teachers and students, saying, “I believe public education is the foundation of democracy”. She hopes to help build a New York where “our schools are the best in the nation”.
Teachout made the distinction between her economic strategy and Cuomo’s “trickle-down economic policy”, which she said “basically boils down to favors”. Teachout said she believes “the foundations of a great economy are infrastructure, small business, entrepreneurs, fairly paid workers, and then (also) affordable basic costs. New York, I believe, should work for the upstart small businesswoman with big ideas, the young couple struggling to get a loan and the retail workers struggling to achieve the American dream”.
She criticized Cuomo’s Start Up New York campaign as “short-term policy” based on favors. She said this policy “doesn’t tackle the real problems that are stifling business growth. Instead, it grants across-the-board tax breaks to businesses”.
Teachout made her position on hydraulic fracking very clear, saying, “I also believe that a core part of any economic plan is protecting natural resources. I oppose fracking”. The Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy and the Community Environmental Defense Council have recently called on Cuomo to permanently ban hydraulic fracking in New York State. Jennifer Clark, a member of Catskill Citizens said, “The governor is winding up his first term in office and running for reelection, but he still hasn’t staked out a clear position on an issue of utmost importance to millions of New Yorkers”.
Teachout believes New Yorkers are living in an inequality crisis. “It’s more unequal since anytime since the plutocratic era. New York, the state of equality and opportunity, is one of the most unequal of all the states. Concentrated private power is choking off our economy and our democracy. That’s no accident,” she said. “That’s the result of bad policy. This is politics of the few by the few.”
Some question whether Teachout will be able to get the votes she needs in order to pose a real challenge, citing Cuomo’s dominance in recent polls. Calling herself an underdog, Teachout says her success at the polls will depend on getting her message to the state’s Democrats between now and September.
“You probably want to know how we’re going to win,” said Teachout. “From my many years organizing, studying history and working on political campaigns, two lessons stand out. First, to challenge power people have to tell the truth and learn about their own power. Second, voters don’t like it when their representatives forget them. Look at what happened last week in Virginia where a little-known economics professor defeated Eric Cantor.”
“I know I’m an underdog,” said Teachout. “But New Yorkers love underdogs.”
She went on to talk about how she would bring more people out to the polls saying, “There’s extraordinary disappointment and disgust with what’s going on with inequality. And once we start telling the truth about what is happening, and then raising people’s standards about what can happen, we are going to see an overwhelming outpouring of support”.
Wu said the ticket would attract a lot of people who don’t typically vote in primary elections.
Teachout said she is “committed to being honest about politics and what’s possible”.
“I am going to be spending all my time on the trail talking to you, talking to people in all kinds of communities. As a small-d Democrat, the scope of people who are coming out to vote right now is too small. You all know that 700,000 people in this great state are expected to vote in the Democratic primary,” Teachout said.
Teachout and Wu’s campaign will focus heavily on immigrant rights. During the press conference, Teachout noted that Wu is the son of immigrants.
“One of our goals is to go to the people who haven’t voted before, where too few campaigns go to. To talk to people under 40 who may not affiliate with any party. To talk to people in first- and second-generation communities who don’t feel like they’re being reached out to. So, you’ll see me in all the usual places, and you’ll see me in a bunch of unusual places,” said Teachout. Wu laughed, saying, “You will know the name Zephyr Teachout by September”.
Cuomo narrowly edged out Teachout for the endorsement of the Working Families Party.
In response to Teachout’s campaign, Working Families Party State Director Bill Lipton said, “We encourage progressives to support Governor Cuomo in the Democratic primary and vote for him on the Working Families line in November”.
During a press conference on June 16, Astorino repeatedly referred to Cuomo’s alliance with the Working Families Party as a “dirty deal” that will “drive the state deeper into the ground”.
Fred Floss, executive director of the progressive Fiscal Policy Institute, commented on Teachout’s campaign saying, “I think it’s always important that the issues come out. For her to run and to talk about the issues is a good thing for New York and even a good thing for Andrew Cuomo”. He added, “It’s an important step for the people of New York to hear all the arguments and to wrestle with all the arguments the candidates give”.
Green Party gubernatorial candidate Howie Hawkins said “Teachout’s entrance into the Democratic Party primary should be used to broaden, rather than narrow, the political debate in New York”.