Grassroots Candidate Challenges Cuomo For Dem. Nomination

Photo by Anthony DeRosa.
Photo by Anthony DeRosa.
Photo by Anthony DeRosa.

On Friday, Aug. 29, Zephyr Teachout, a relatively unknown challenger to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s spot as Democratic Party nominee for the 2014 New York gubernatorial election, spoke to New Paltz students and community members as part of her three-day, 18-stop, “whistleblower” campaign bus tour, taking on Cuomo’s “corrupt old-boys network.”

About 40 people gathered outside the Humanities Building where supporters stood with signs promoting Teachout’s campaign platforms, many of which echoed big-issue grievances lodged against Cuomo – “ban hydrofracking” the most prevalent among them. Other signs included support of wind energy as well as increased support of the small business economy.

“I believe we have an abundant and resourceful state that we need to invest in, and I see a governor who is more Republican than Democrat with a tax policy and an economic development policy that could have come straight from Ronald Reagan,” Teachout said via megaphone.

Teachout, an associate professor of constitutional and property law at Fordham University, has been touted by the media as a grassroots “upset” candidate in her bid for the Democratic nomination against Cuomo. The first-time candidate along with her running mate for Lt. Gov., Columbia University law professor Tim Wu who was not present, have received multiple campaign endorsements from prominent political figures and institutions, including the National Organization for Women, environmental organization the Sierra Club, political magazine The Nation, the Public Employees Federation union, tech and media blog, as well as former New York City Public Advocate Mark Green.

As Teachout puts it, her campaign is “gaining steam” and it has caused Cuomo’s supporters to take notice. Teachout was brought to court in early August on claims that she did not meet the state’s five-year residency requirement to run for office, noting that she had a Vermont driver’s license until this spring. A judge dismissed the case after Teachout testified that she met the requirement having lived in New York since accepting a professor position at Fordham University in 2009, allowing her stay on the ballot. A week later, Cuomo supporters appealed the decision, which an appeals court ruled in Teachout’s favor.

“There wasn’t supposed to be a primary in Andrew Cuomo’s New York,” Teachout said in a statement released after her first court appearance. “Game on.”

Most of Teachout’s campaign contributions have come in the form of small-donations totaling close to $560k, compared to Cuomo’s $30.6 million, according to the most recent fillings with the state’s Board of Elections. Teachout herself acknowledged this discrepancy, citing her opponent’s corporate donors as “having too much power in Albany.”

“I’m here to expose the cost of corruption in New York State,” Teachout said. “The corruption I’m talking about is not the bribery that you can throw someone in jail for but the legal corruption where big donors call the shots.”

Teachout continued:

“In the last three days, we have stopped and I have talked about the cost of corruption that the million dollars in pro-fracking money that has been given to Andrew Cuomo and the cost is that Andrew Cuomo has not come out in favor of a ban on fracking.”

Teachout’s appearance at SUNY New Paltz was in part organized by New Paltz Town Planning Board member Tim Rogers, whose desire for a “protest candidate” attracted him in support of her views on environmental issues and support of public education, knowing these issues would resonate with both the students and community.

“I’m very excited about her candidacy,” Rogers said. “I’m beyond ecstatic in terms of ‘this has become a real campaign.’ Everyday she’s getting real endorsements from valuable individuals and prominent unions – the momentum continues to build.”

Teachout stayed topical in her speech, chastising Cuomo on rising tuition costs and championing affordable public higher education, sharing an anecdote on student debt stagnating economic innovation.

However, despite Teachout’s accusations and his own lead in the polls, Cuomo has refused to participate in a primary debate with her, a move she perceives as fear.

“If Andrew Cuomo doesn’t want to debate me, what is the old boys club afraid of?” Teachout said. “What do you think would happen in that debate? Is he worried that we’d end up talking about how he spends his time instead of talking to students? Is he worried he’d have to give a direct answer to the question of what his view is on hydrofracking? Is he worried that he’d have to explain his [campaign] donors?”

Teachout offered a final provocation.

“Or maybe he’s worried that the people he really works for, his donors, want him to keep quiet because they’re worried he’s going to mess up.”