Zephyr Teachout – A better option for New York

Who is Zephyr Teachout?

It’s an interesting question. A lot of people haven’t heard the name yet. To answer it, though, I think it’s important to go back a bit. Back to a happier time, when Andrew Cuomo vowed to clean up the corruption in New York state politics. The Moreland Commission was established specifically to clean up illicit fundraising and campaign financing in New York, and spent nine months doing just that – they looked into various organizations and candidates, including Senate and Assembly leaders. A lot of New Yorkers thought that maybe this was something that could actually clean up the historically dirty state of New York politics.

Then, the Moreland Commission started investigating Cuomo donors – and what should happen next but Cuomo’s top aide stepping in and telling them to step back? You’d think that if the governor truly wanted to clean up corruption, he’d welcome any investigation rather than obstruct it. This didn’t just happen once, either – it happened repeatedly. Once this came to light, District Attorney Preet Bharara took over– and has been investigating the circumstances surrounding Cuomo’s actions, some of which may have been criminal.

Zephyr Teachout

Zephyr Teachout (via Capital New York/AP)

A New Future For New York

Enter Zephyr Teachout, a Fordham Law professor recruited by the Working Families party back in May 2014 to provide a real alternative to politics as usual in Albany. She’s running primarily on an anti-corruption platform, spurred by events like the Moreland Commission disbanding as well as Cuomo’s reluctance to investigate political operative Steven Pigeon in upstate New York.

Ms. Teachout visited Buffalo a couple of nights ago and hosted a conversation about the effects of the political machine in upstate New York. We heard from a former Erie County district attorney who was fired after he pushed to investigate an election law case, as well as from another man who is being paid by the state not to investigate Medicaid fraud cases. A school principal from West Seneca, near Buffalo, also told her story of how her district has been targeted by audits ever since they started to look into the reasons behind the textbook publisher selection of Pearson, a company partly owned by the Libyan government, for education programs here in New York. These were just three of the many stories all across the state, but the realization that this isn’t just happening in Albany – that it’s happening here in upstate New York as well – really hit home.

I can speak further to this culture of corruption and intimidation personally. As a volunteer organizer for Ms. Teachout’s campaign here in Buffalo, I reached out to other volunteers and donors across the region. I got a lot of positive response, but one specific response stuck with me. I was contacted by a stateManagement/Confidential employee – someone who is legally prohibited from organizing to protect their employment – who told me that as much as they wanted to help out, they couldn’t afford to be too visible. They said specifically that they were “concerned with retaliation”. It made me stop and think about just how much of a culture of corruption and fear has been cultivated in state agencies.

Governor Andrew Cuomo, the man who has cultivated a culture of corruption and fear in Albany (via Poughkeepsie Journal/Mike Groll/AP)

Zephyr Teachout is willing to stand up for those people. At the event in Buffalo, I had the opportunity to speak with Ms. Teachout both at the event and when I went out for dinner afterwards, and I was struck by how open and honest she was. I truly believe she has the best interests of New Yorkers at heart, unlike Governor Cuomo.

It’s not just the culture of corruption that Ms. Teachout’s taking on, though. Both she and her running mate, Tim Wu (the founder of the term “net neutrality” – which you’ll probably hear me talk about a lot as this blog matures), have come out in public opposition of the Comcast/Time Warner Cable merger and cable consolidation. On the other hand, Cuomo has accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding from Time Warner and Comcast – some of which has gone to ads claiming that Cuomo was working to get corporate money out of politics. It’s a sharp contrast – between the hypocritical man in office taking money from corporate interests and the candidates with integrity who are funding their campaign through largely individual donors.

Speaking of donors, it’s not just TWC and Comcast that are giving Cuomo money. He’s also received a bundle from pro-fracking interests, and his campaign manager is quite involved with fracking himself.

So how did the governor respond to this challenge from a legitimate primary candidate?

Cuomo’s Response

Well, since it’s Cuomo, instead of taking her on in the primary, he instead initially tried to sue her off the ballot. Predictably, this failed – as one would expect. The lawsuit was frivolous on its face. With the appeals court throwing the suit out, some thought Cuomo would finally acknowledge Ms. Teachout as a legitimate primary opponent…

Nope. Instead of coming out legitimately against Ms. Teachout, Cuomo sent operatives to her campaign events to protest. Meanwhile, his campaign stayed completely silent on the subject.

Ms. Teachout has been calling for a debate for some time now. Time Warner Cable News has even offeredto donate the air time for it. In the interest of an open democracy, you would think Cuomo would attend and take an opportunity to mitigate the growing criticism against him. Instead, he and his running mate, Kathy Hochul, have repeatedly dodged the issue.

Of course, this is all designed to slow down the Teachout campaign’s momentum and restrict her name recognition. Unfortunately, it hasn’t worked – from recent reports, Ms. Teachout’s name recognition has more than doubled. The question is simply whether enough people will have heard of her by next Tuesday.

Better on the Issues

This campaign isn’t just about getting Cuomo and his questionably Democratic running mate out of the race early, though. It’s about securing a better future for all New Yorkers. Zephyr Teachout has vowed to clean up corruption in Albany, ending the culture of cronyism and fear that has taken root in this state’s government. She’s come out strongly against fracking, something that Cuomo has been reticent on. Her running mate, Tim Wu, is the father of net neutrality – and both he and Ms. Teachout have said that they would work to block the frightening Comcast-Time Warner merger, something that’s certainly on the minds of many New Yorkers. What’s nice about that is that New York actually has a lot of power when it comes to this merger, so opposition from both the governor and lieutenant governor would go a long way. Also, Teachout and Wu have come out against Common Core, the widely criticized federal education program.

One of the big issues that Ms. Teachout is running on is public campaign funding, though. Getting corporate influence out of politics, especially in a state like New York, would go a long way towards repairing our fundamentally broken government – which is probably why it has such widespread support across party boundaries.

For any informed Democrat, this choice should be a no-brainer in the primary election – vote for Zephyr Teachout and Tim Wu on September 9th.

So there’s your answer, I guess.

Who is Zephyr Teachout? Someone you can trust. Someone who has what it takes to lead this state to a bright future. Someone you can vote for on September 9th.

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