Democratic congressional candidate Zephyr Teachout was understandably “overwhelmed” when asked about a Time Warner Cable News/Siena College poll released last Tuesday that showed her 30 points ahead of her primary opponent, Will Yandik. Taken about a month before the June 28 primary, the poll seemed to give Teachout an insurmountable lead against the underfunded and relatively unknown Columbia County farmer.
Teachout didn’t define “overwhelmed.” One gets the impression that the Fordham law professor isn’t overwhelmed by many things. She might have meant the poll hardly represented the reception she and Yandik have been getting around the district. Which is to say, closer to 50-50 than 65-35. Such was the response by the SRO crowd at the Community Center in Woodstock last week.
That there wasn’t a dime’s worth of difference on a host of topics between these two self-described “progressives” might have been a factor. Regardless of who wins the primary, the hard left will be well-represented on the Democratic ticket.
Against Teachout’s celebrity and impressive fundraising — she should be approaching $1.5 million while Yandik struggles for a third of that — was a troubling stat inside the Siena poll which suggested, as has Yandik, that a run from the left might not succeed in a moderate-to-conservative district in which Democrats and Republicans have almost equal enrollments. The poll showed that Teachout ran strongest with the 13 percent among those who considered themselves most progressive, while running virtually even with Yandik among those who said they were mainstream Democrats. These findings seemed to back Yandik’s repeated warning that to win the election “we have to reach out to Republicans.”
Bring on John Faso!
You have to give Teachout an “E” for exuberance. At the Woodstock candidates’ night she declared herself “John Faso’s worst nightmare.” Faso leads Republican rival Andrew Heaney by 22 points in the Siena poll.
Well, I’ve seen Faso across some 20 years of campaigning, and if truth be told he might be Teachout’s worst nightmare.
Faso, a career politician, is what they call a kneecapper. He takes no prisoners. It’s all about the prize. He will attack any perceived weakness — does residency ring a bell? —belittle any accomplishment, turn around any criticism. Something of a policy wonk like Teachout, he will bury his opponents in white papers. On the campaign trail, Faso is all smiles and handshakes, but can go quickly serious when a susbstantive question is raised.
The former Assembly minority leader has been through the mill, having run failed — but loud — campaigns for governor and state comptroller, the first a debacle against Eliot Spitzer, the latter a credible showing against Alan Hevesi.
Teachout, by comparison, has barely had the proverbial glove laid on her. For sure she’s fought for all kinds of good causes, but has never faced live fire in a competitive election. Andrew Cuomo ignored her during their primary campaign in 2014. Carrying almost every upstate county was a moral victory, but how much of that was anti-Cuomo? Yandik, as repeatedly demonstrated in this primary, has been little more than an echo chamber.
That said, Teachout is no pushover. Firm resolve underlies her engaging demeanor. She needs to understand that a general election against John Faso will be a whole new ballgame.
I think voters expect more from candidates than an obvious understanding of issues and a pledge to “fight like hell,” as Teachout likes to say. After decades of upstate economic malaise, credible, achievable solutions had better be forthcoming.
As an example, the biannual question to on how to equalize Medicare reimbursement payments between Ulster and Dutchess County has produced a history lesson in futility. Teachout noted that former Democratic congressman Maurice Hinchey fought hard to for equity over a 20-year career, as did Republican Chris Gibson during the four years he represented this county. She too, would “fight like hell,” but that can’t be the whole answer, not after 24 years.
Here, the sharp-as-a-tack Teachout might have missed an opportunity. The problem with changing the formula lies not in the House, as she knows, but in the Senate, and Teachout has been endorsed by both New York senators.
Yandik wasn’t just dropping names when he said he paid a courtesy visit on House Minority Whip (No. 2) Steny Hoyer.
“I asked him if the House was as bitterly divided as I’d read about,” Yandik said.
“He said, ‘Young man, it’s a helluva lot worse than that.’”
A Yandik spokesman said his candidate has sent out five mailings in the last month. I’ve yet to see any of them.
County Executive Mike Hein, once the subject of much speculation as a congressional possibility, didn’t attend last week’s candidates’ night, but his shadow looms over this race.
“Mike Hein held up fundraising for both of us,” said Yandik without rancor in comparing the substantial lead Republican candidates enjoy in money-raising over their Democratic counterparts. Though never committing to a run, Hein allowed speculation about his candidacy until almost the end of last year before “withdrawing” for what he said were family considerations. The inference from “both” was that neither would have run against Hein, which I doubt. Hein, unlike Yandik and Teachout, would probably have run from the right, almost as a Faso clone — a tricky proposition in a Democratic primary.
Candidate exchanges can sometimes produce interesting stats. I didn’t know a congressional office is allowed a staff of 18. Makes sense to me. The office serves more than 700,000 people. By comparison, Ulster County has about 180,000 residents and a legislature with 23 members.
Since the Democratic candidates agreed on almost everything, neither questioned that upward of 90 percent of congressional districts on the ballot this year will go uncontested or with minimal opposition. New York’s 19th Congressional District is one of only about 40 nationally in play. Democrats need 33 to regain the majority.
Sales tax finale
I got the impression that Kingston aldermen didn’t understand the sales tax deal negotiated by their mayor and their county executive any better than their counterparts in the county legislature. And the aldermen had almost a month longer to digest details.
I’m not claiming to be an expert, but it appears the five-year sales tax deal will come in two phases. The first two years are just about status quo. The last three are rife with risk, mostly to the city and, by extension, the 20 towns. For one thing, there’s a cap on growth beginning in the third year. For another, if for any reason the 1 percent surtax goes away, the county will be held harmless while the city suffers the consequences.