Zephyr Teachout has suddenly burst onto the New York political scene, prompting voters everywhere to ask: “What’s a Zephyr Teachout?”
But the Fordham Law School professor with the unique moniker is about to educate the state’s Democrats on just who she is and why she is challenging Gov. Andrew Cuomo in the September primary.
“I don’t think his policies are good for New York,” she said a few days ago on her first campaign trip to Buffalo.
Teachout, 42, has been working hard to familiarize her name in New York political circles for some time. Last month, she sought the gubernatorial nomination of the left-leaning Working Families Party, capturing a respectable 41 percent against the powerful incumbent. Since then, she has decided to take on Cuomo by criticizing what she calls his failure to embrace measures like campaign finance reform left behind when the Legislature exited Albany on Thursday.
“We’re seeing politicians increasingly serving their donors,” she said. “With the way campaigns are funded, politicians really have no choice but to abandon their constituents and serve those who write the $20,000 and $30,000 checks.
“Andrew Cuomo says he supports the exact same thing,” she added. “But it’s his favorite broken promise.”
A veteran of Howard Dean’s presidential campaign in 2004, Teachout doesn’t buy the governor’s assertion that Senate Republicans foiled his efforts at campaign finance reform. And she remains puzzled as to whether he is fully committed to electing more Democratic senators who would readily embrace campaign finance reform.
Locally, she is receiving support from members of teachers unions and other groups. They are helping her emphasize education and investment in transportation infrastructure. And they are looking to upset the Democratic apple cart in this state by actually aiming at the party’s undisputed leader. While few expect a little-known law professor to topple the Mighty Cuomo, Teachout may nevertheless wield significant power in the Democratic Party. And it all revolves around – believe it or not – the lieutenant governor nominee.
Teachout has selected as her running mate Tim Wu, a Columbia law professor known for his advocacy of net neutrality. And under New York law, primary voters cast separate ballots for governor and lieutenant governor. That could translate into a major source of concern for Kathy Hochul of Buffalo, the former congresswoman running with Cuomo.
Under a wacky scenario that some political observers acknowledge might actually transpire, Wu could emerge as a strong opponent against Hochul. First, ultra-liberal Democrats liable to be intrigued by Teachout and Wu are most apt to vote in a Democratic primary. Second, a huge Asian-American population in New York City may very well mark its ballot for Wu – one of its own. Third, a pair of legislative primaries in Queens featuring Asian-American candidates could dramatically swell turnout there, while upstate Dems will probably stay at home.
The result is unexpected concern in the Cuomo camp over – of all things – the race for lieutenant governor.
Cuomo must only ask his father – former Gov. Mario Cuomo – about the mess a primary for lieutenant governor can create. In 1982, Cuomo’s choice of Carl McCall as his running mate was nixed by the victory of then-Westchester County Executive Al DelBello in the Democratic primary, who was running with New York Mayor Ed Koch.
The elder Cuomo, who beat Koch in the gubernatorial primary, was then saddled with a lieutenant governor he didn’t care about and didn’t want. DelBello was considered so irrelevant that he eventually resigned.
One can only imagine the assignments doled out to a Lt. Gov. Wu. Supervising the Capitol’s second floor pencil supply, perhaps?
But this is America, and the way it works around here is the candidate with the most votes wins. And the appearance of Teachout and Wu on the statewide scene now means Cuomo and Hochul can take nothing for granted.