Teachout challenges Cuomo from the left

Photo by Phyllis McCabe

Photo by Phyllis McCabe

As Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Moreland Commission troubles grow deeper, does Zephyr Teachout offer a plausible gubernatorial alternative to Democrats?

It’d be very tough. Despite discontent with Cuomo from liberals, he’s a sitting governor, has a huge war chest and is up in the polls by double digits over any rival.

None of this seems to discourage Teachout, who spoke before a crowd of about 30 people at a meeting of the Ulster County Democratic Women Tuesday, July 22, in Uptown Kingston.


Teachout spoke with energy and optimism to a receptive audience. On hand were prominent regional Dems like Ulster County party Chairman Frank Cardinale, former party chairman and former candidate for Congress Julian Schreibman and Dutchess County legislator and perennial liberal firebrand Joel Tyner.

Teachout made the case over 40 minutes that Andrew Cuomo has turned his back on big-D Democratic values like full funding for education and public funding for elections. Cuomo, she said, broke his promises on “cleaning up Albany” by deep-sixing the ethics-probing Moreland Commission before it could get too close to his own allies, betrayed a promise to take gerrymandering out of the drawing of legislative districts and colluded with Republicans to hand the GOP control of the state Senate.

His promise of transparency? Also broken, Teachout said. “He doesn’t engage in debates, he doesn’t go on unscripted television interviews where someone could actually ask him hard questions,” said Teachout. “He doesn’t like being in front of large audiences where people could ask him hard questions. On that promise, he has failed.”

Further, said Teachout, the governor if re-elected may well end up allowing fracking in the state — “look out for a ‘demonstration project in the Southern Tier,” she warned — and continue his support of tax codes that give breaks to the rich at the expense of everyone else.

The key to making things better — from the progressive point of view, anyway — said Teachout, is changing how election campaigns are paid for. “I’ve been actively campaigning at the state and federal level for public funding of elections — that’s the way to solve the problem of money and politics.”

Do that, says the lawyer who once represented people on death row and is now an organizer, author and Constitutional law professor at Fordham, and you cut corruption’s supply lines. “The kind of corruption I’m talking about is the kind of system that makes you serve those $60,000 donors instead of the public. That’s systemic corruption. … [Politicians] are fundamentally selling out their obligation to the public.”

Teachout said that with a public-financing system and without corruption, New York would become the “deeply Democratic” state it should be according to its demographics. Public education would be fully paid for, she said. There would be small class sizes, a full array of gym and art classes and sufficient counseling for all students. The Empire State would enjoy a “small-business economy, with good jobs, family farms and small business with real power.” New York would be “completely open to immigrants from all over the world”; she called upon Cuomo to offer to take in some of the Central American immigrant children currently flooding the U.S. border. There would be more investment in public transit — she said she took the Trailways bus to Kingston after spending the day campaigning in New York City — and more in infrastructure as well. Marijuana would be decriminalized on the way to it becoming legal for recreational use. Fracking would stay banned in favor of intense development of renewable energy. The state’s prison population, third largest in the nation, would be reduced. “Anyone with compassion could look through the prison population and see people who just don’t belong there.”

Paying for this would be, she said, $10 billion a year in extra revenue from what she called “a fair” financial services tax, as well as an income tax code that shifts the burden onto those who can better afford to pay. “We can have a New York where our tax code is our moral code,” she said.

As for property taxes, she would like them to be vastly cut back and education paid for via other tax revenues, but she is against the 2 percent tax-levy hike cap.

Teachout’s appearance in Kingston happened the same day she appeared with Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino on the steps of the “Boss” Tweed (of Tammany Hall infame) Courthouse in New York City to issue a joint denunciation of what they called growing corruption in Albany under Cuomo’s administration. It was the night before a pretty damning New York Times story on the Moreland Commission came out, a story which, stated the Times, “found that … Cuomo’s aides deeply compromised the … panel’s work, objecting to any inquiries about groups tied to Mr. Cuomo.” (Teachout responded Wednesday by saying Cuomo should resign immediately. State GOP Chairman Ed Cox put his reaction succinctly: “Andrew Cuomo is guilty of corrupting his own corruption commission.”)

Teachout, who failed to wrest the Working Families Party line from Cuomo earlier this year, noted that her nominating petitions, which must be certified if she’s to appear on a Democratic gubernatorial primary ballot on Sept. 9, are being challenged by former state senator and current Cuomo counsel Martin Connor. She assured the audience that as she’s collected three times the required 15,000 signatures, she’ll be on the ballot. Her running mate is Tim Wu, known for being a leading advocate of “Net Neutrality,” the principle that all websites should have equal access to bandwidth, instead of larger concerns being able to pay service providers for preferential “fast-lanes.”

Funding-wise, Teachout’s down by quite a bit. Her campaign reported $277,000 in funds earlier this month. Cuomo reported $35 million.

“Amazing, exciting,” began Tyner’s review of Teachout’s talk. “She’s already taking the Democratic party in new, beautiful directions — back to the FDR roots, where it should be. With all due respect to Andrew Cuomo, he’s ripped too much money out of our schools, he’s not a Democrat when it comes to tax policy and he’s played games when it comes to the fracking issue.”

“I think [she’s] an excellent choice,” said Rocco Rizzo of Rosendale. “She’s stands for science, she stands for people, she stands for public education — that’s what this state is all about.”

“Anytime we have a woman run, we win,” said Ulster County Democratic Women President Marcy Goulart of Esopus. “I think her message is very clear. I think she has a lot of support in this room. I think it’s four times harder for any woman to run for any office.”

Ulster party chieftain Cardinale, after Teachout’s talk, said it was important to hear a diversity of voices in political discourse. When asked how he would handicap Teachout’s chances, Cardinale smiled as he seemed to search for a suitably diplomatic phrase. “I can’t answer that,” he finally said. “It’s a primary.”