Politics

Why Zephyr Teachout Should Be New York

September 12, 2014

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New York progressives have recently felt emboldened to challenge centrist Democrats in primary elections. In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio, Public Advocate Letitia James, and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito all swept into office after handily defeating their more conservative opponents. Their success led, in part, to the rise of Zephyr Teachout, a Fordham law professor, Yale graduate, and formidable primary challenger to Andrew Cuomo. Teachout’s running mate, Tim Wu, is a law professor at Columbia and a fellow at the New America Foundation.

Teachout and Wu are not perennial “activist” candidates. They have the expertise and experience to lead New York State into an era of reform. Their chances of victory are not outstanding. Indeed, a primary victory over Andrew Cuomo would perhaps be as unexpected as Eric Cantor’s ouster. But every vote cast for Teachout and Wu serves as a warning to the governor and to the Democratic Party that habitually disappointing Democrats  will no longer be tolerated.

There are many things that Andrew Cuomo has done or failed to do, both as governor and as a gubernatorial candidate, that should discourage New York Democrats from supporting his re-election. Depending on one’s priorities, some of his trespasses may seem more distressing than others. The following is an incomplete (but hopefully sufficient) list of reasons why Cuomo is undeserving of another term as governor.

1. He failed to support a Democratic majority in the state Senate in 2012.

The Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) is a faction of conservative Democrats in the state Senate who are allied with Republicans. In 2012, voters wanted a state Senate controlled by Democrats but instead got one controlled by Republicans and the duplicitous IDC. This alliance has prevented a number of progressive initiatives from becoming law, including the Women’s Equality Act. Not only did Cuomo fail to endorse important Democratic Senate candidates, but he also endorsed two Republicans and failed to prevent a Democrat from caucusing with the Republicans.

2. He needed to be coerced into explicitly supporting a Democratic majority in the state Senate in 2014.

The Working Families Party (WFP), a powerful labor-backed organization that aims to push Democratic candidates leftward by endorsing and campaigning for progressive Democrats, almost denied Cuomo their support this year. But Cuomo and WFP favorite Bill de Blasio were able to broker a last minute deal. The WFP officially endorsed Cuomo and in exchange, he called for the dissolution of the IDC and said he would campaign for a Democratic majority in the Senate. But some of Cuomo’s subsequent actions seem to indicate that he wants to punish the WFP for challenging his authority. A politician supporting his or her own party is something that should occur automatically. It’s absurd that anyone had to force Cuomo to back his own allies.   

3. He created a sham “Women’s Equality” party in an attempt to take away votes from his female primary challenger and from a powerful progressive third party.

Cuomo’s Women’s Equality Act failed to pass in the state Senate because of the Republican-IDC alliance but the governor is so pumped about women’s rights that he created a wholly unnecessary third party that immediately endorsed him. He doesn’t want anyone getting the idea that a female governor might be a better advocate for women’s equality than him and he wants to punish the Working Families Party for failing to instantly bow before him. Cuomo will appear on the Democratic, Working Families, and Women’s Equality party lines this November (assuming he secures the Democratic nomination). The less votes for Cuomo on the Working Families Party line, the weaker the WFP could become.

4. He has refused, thus far, to debate his primary challenger.

A debate with Cuomo would legitimize Teachout’s candidacy, publicize her agenda, and further expose Cuomo’s weaknesses on progressive issues. As a result, Cuomo is understandably uneager to share a stage with her. He clearly perceives her as a threat to the resounding, unchallenged re-election victory he craves. If Cuomo were confident in his chances for re-election (as he should be) and if he genuinely valued the democratic process, he should have no objections to debating Teachout.

5. He twice attempted to get his primary challenger tossed off the ballot.

Cuomo’s legal team alleged that Teachout hadn’t been a New York resident for 5 years, which is a necessary condition for running for governor. Repeated attempts to kick her off the ballot failed. There’s no reason why someone who values the democratic process should be so intent on destroying his only notable primary challenger.

6. He has never taken a firm stance on fracking, despite repeatedly promising to do so.

An official decision on whether or not to allow fracking in New York was supposed to be made in the spring of 2012. That didn’t happen. In February of 2013 a decision was expected. That didn’t happen. In May of 2013, Cuomo said a decision would arrive “in the next several weeks.” That didn’t happen. Then Cuomo said he’d make a decision before this year’s election. That hasn’t happened. Last anyone heard, a decision won’t be made until April of 2015. Fed up with the governor’s dithering, the Sierra Club endorsed Teachout.

7. He interfered with a supposedly “independent” commission tasked with investigating public corruption.

New York Times investigation exposed Cuomo’s inability to complete what he once called “job #1,” cleaning up Albany. The governor who swore to fight corruption wound up seeming dishonest, if not corrupt, himself. The Times recently refused to endorse Cuomo for re-election because of his “failure on ethics reform.”

The list of Cuomo’s faults could continue. His conservative tax policies, his plan to litter upstate New York with casinos, and his unbridled enthusiasm for charter schools are all causes for concern. Teachout and Wu are untested as politicians but Cuomo has been thoroughly tested with disastrous results. A bold change in New York’s political landscape has already occurred in many of its cities. A genuinely progressive governor, coupled with a Democratic majority in the state senate, could usher in a progressive era of reform unseen since the days of Theodore Roosevelt. Such a reality is within grasp, but only if New York’s Democrats boldly select Zephyr Teachout as their next governor.

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