By Lincoln Anderson
Septembe 11, 2014
BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | She entered the race with zero name recognition, but that’s definitely not the case anymore, as progressive Zephyr Teachout surprisingly won more than 34 percent of the vote against incumbent Andrew Cuomo in Tuesday’s Democratic primary election for governor.
In the race for lieutenant governor, Teachout’s running mate, Tim Wu, lost to Kathy Hochul by 40 percent to 60 percent.
“You have been heard,” Teachout told her supporters in her concession speech. “There is no politician in this state who doesn’t know about you and know about what you care about right now tonight. You created a courageous and marvelous campaign, waged against all odds, with very little resources, against this massive and corrupt New York political machine.”
In a statement, Cuomo said, in part, “I want to congratulate Zephyr Teachout and Tim Wu on running a spirited campaign, engaging in the democratic process and having the courage to make their voices heard.”
Teachout entered the race late, in June, and she never came close to matching Cuomo’s cash-packed war chest. Cuomo raised about $33 million and spent $3 million to $4 million on the race, while Teachout raised a half million dollars and spent nearly all of it. But she had an excellent Web presence. She didn’t do any TV ads or mailings, but she had ads online, including on Facebook.
A Fordham law professor and expert on the role of money in politics, she hammered away at the centrist governor on his left. Fracking was a particularly vulnerable point of his, and she pledged that, if elected, she would take a firm position and keep it from happening in New York.
Cuomo was further badly wounded in July by The New York Times’s exposé on how he hobbled his own anticorruption Moreland Commission — which he had disbanded early — from probing too close to his own doings.
Wu, a Columbia law professor, is an expert on ’Net neutrality, which basically means that all pages on the Internet should load at the same speed — that Fox’s pages don’t get to load faster than a blogger’s.
In what was a very light primary day turnout, Teachout won 46 percent of Manhattan’s votes. She won all three of Manhattan’s West Side Assembly districts, Tony Hoffmann, president of the Village Independent Democrats, said. Teachout also won liberal voting areas in Brooklyn, including Brooklyn Heights, Park Slope, Carroll Gardens and Cobble Hill.
“I think she did great,” Hoffmann said on Wednesday. “She was in the race for — what? — eight weeks. And eight weeks later, with little name recognition and no money…it’s incredible.”
V.I.D. endorsed Teachout and Wu, as did several other leading local progressive Democratic clubs, including the Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club, Coalition for a District Alternative and Downtown Independent Democrats.
The Jim Owles, which is actually a citywide club, was the first to endorse Teachout, and she didn’t forget it. She personally thanked Allen Roskoff, the gay club’s president, during her televised concession speech.
Hoffmann said Teachout won in the city’s liberal white districts. She fared less well in working-class districts and among poorer, minority and conservative Jewish voters — the latter likely at least partly swayed by Cuomo’s strong position in support of Israel.
But Teachout won among liberal Jewish voters. In addition, she won the entire Hudson Valley, stretching north above Westchester up to Canada. She and Cuomo each won 31 counties, but the ones Teachout took had few votes and the ones Cuomo garnered had many.
“She sent a message — on the Moreland Commission, fracking, education — that we need public investment in education,” Hoffmann said.
In addition, Randy Credico, the stand-up comic turned political candidate, all things considered, did very well for himself, too, Hoffmann said. Credico — who was angered when Teachout suddenly became the “protest vote candidate” instead of him — won 3.6 percent of Democratic votes cast.
Hoffman said that, over the past weekends, V.I.D. was campaigning for Teachout and Wu at the Abingdon Square farmers market, and that the response was overwhelming.
“It’s been a long time since I saw that kind of reception,” he said. “People wanted the literature. People smiled and said, ‘Yes, I’ll be voting for her.’ ”
On primary day, Teachout and Wu swung by the L.G.B.T. Center, on W. 13th St. Wu had earlier voted at P.S. 33, on W. 26th St. in Chelsea, near where he lives, and he and Teachout — who voted in Brooklyn — then biked down to the Village to campaign with V.I.D. members outside P.S. 3, on Hudson St., before going up to the Center. Teachout rode a bike-share Citi Bike while Wu — who used to live in the West Village — pedaled a funky, old, steel black Raleigh.
Jacqueline Kirk, the poll coordinator, came out and scolded the candidates that they were “electioneering,” and, shooing them away, told them that they needed to stay 100 feet from the poll entrance.
“C’mon, they know that,” she said.
During a press conference at a safe 100 feet from the poll doorway, Teachout was asked what she thought of Cuomo reportedly telling state legislators that if they endorsed her, he would cut funding for projects in their districts.
“The use of public power to sway political choices is something Andrew Cuomo is known for,” she stated.
Of Cuomo and Hochul, she said, “They haven’t been prepared for the kind of enthusiasm we’ve seen. This troublesome exercise in democracy isn’t something Andrew Cuomo is excited about.”
Wu noted that their lawsuit is continuing over what they charge was the Democratic State Committee’s spending millions of dollars on Cuomo’s re-election campaign. The committee, they said, is supposed to be impartial.
“Cuomo’s lawyers tried to have the case thrown out yesterday,” he said. “The case is proceeding. Regardless of who wins this election, there is a track record of enormous illegal contributions and illegalities. The lawsuit is going to expand.”
“We’re very excited about pursuing the lawsuit,” Teachout added.
The majority of voters at the L.G.B.T. Center were strongly for Teachout and Wu.
“This person should not be in office,” Lucy Komisar told the press conference after she had voted, referring to Cuomo. “When I heard he was warning he’d cut funding for Assembly and state Senate districts if they backed Teachout… . In the next election, I might vote Republican,” she said, referring to G.O.P. candidate Rob Astorino, who will face Cuomo in the November general election.
Teachout again praised Roskoff and his club for their early support. Even though Cuomo passed same-sex marriage, it wasn’t enough for Roskoff to overlook his faults.
Noting he co-authored the nation’s first gay-rights bill, Roskoff said, “The gay community showed its true colors when we voted against Christine Quinn” for mayor last year.
Quinn prominently supported Cuomo’s re-election. Meanwhile, a Quinn ally, former state Senator Tom Duane happened to be passing by after taking his dog to a local vet. He wouldn’t say who he voted for.
“People should vote as often as they’re legally allowed,” he quipped.
Teachout and Wu then biked off on the way to their next stop, in Harlem. She actually docked her bike in Jackson Square and they hopped on the subway at W. 14th St. and headed uptown.
Barbara Tirrell, an actress and N.Y.U. teacher, also voted for Teachout.
“I think Andrew Cuomo has disrespected me as a Democrat,” she said. “I want to see him ban fracking. I want him to be far more supportive of the public education system. I’m much more to the left — that’s where I live.”
Ray Tsao, who lives near the Center and attended Yale undergrad with Teachout, said he has always thought highly of her.
“She is a woman of tremendous integrity, energy and intelligence,” he said. “I already admired her as a constitutional thinker and advocate. She’s very trustworthy.”
Iris Ascher, a psychiatrist and a senior, voted at P.S. 3. As she came out using her walker, said she voted for a split ticket of Teachout and Hochul.
“She’s outspoken, she’s a woman,” she said of Teachout. “I feel she’s fresh. Cuomo is old hat to me, the old guard. It’s not like a presidential election where I’d really be thinking about my vote,” she added.
Asked why she voted for Hochul, she said, again, largely because she was a woman.
“I think we’d be better off if the country was run by more women,” she said.
Sean Sweeney, a leading member of D.I.D., said his prediction, which he made to The Villager back in July, was borne out by Tuesday’s results.
Back then, he said, voting for Teachout would be “a protest vote,” but that nonetheless her campaign could hurt Cuomo.
“If she gets 25 or 30 percent, that’s embarrassing,” he said then, noting that, in any race, the typical protest vote is only around 15 percent. “She could bloody Cuomo’s nose, which would certainly affect his ability to garner the Democratic nomination in 2016.”
Many news reports are now saying just this — that Teachout’s strong showing may have seriously wounded Cuomo’s national ambitions.
Speaking Wednesday, Sweeney said of Cuomo, “He did poorly. It could derail his chances of being president.”
Sweeney said he particularly disliked how Cuomo refused to acknowledge Teachout at the West Indian Day Parade, which the media blew up into a big story. The governor had refused to debate her — or even utter her name — so this incident took on larger life.
“That was really rude, and it’s childish,” Sweeney said. “He said he didn’t see her.
“If it wasn’t for his campaigning,” he said, “the millions he spent and the millions the real estate developers gave him, and her late entry into the race, and the arm-twisting endorsements he got from local politicians, against an unknown who had only been running two or three months, she would have done much better.”
As for what’s next for Teachout, a source told The Villager on Tuesday, that if she lost to Cuomo, she might very well join up with the lawfirm of a well-known local political figure and activist.