Cuomo’s progressive foe popular with Downtown clubs

Downtown Express photo by Lincoln Anderson

Downtown Express photo by Lincoln Anderson

BY LINCOLN ANDERSON  |  After previously voting “no endorsement” in the Democratic primary for governor, the Village Independent Democrats last Thursday reconsidered their position, ultimately throwing their support behind political newcomer Zephyr Teachout.

Teachout, a Fordham law professor, entered the Democratic primary in June after losing the Working Families Party endorsement to Governor Andrew Cuomo — and after V.I.D., in a rebuke of Cuomo, had already voted 26-0 for “no endorsement” in the primary.

Although her poll numbers are pretty low, she is proving to be popular with Downtown Democratic clubs like Downtown Independent Democrats in Lower Manhattan, which voted not to endorse Cuomo, and may soon give their nod to Teachout. 

One factor in D.I.D.’s snubbing of Cuomo was the governor’s role in the recently revealed “secret M.O.U.” (memorandum of understanding) to transfer $100 million worth of development rights from Pier 40 to the St. John’s Center site in Hudson Square.

 Before last Thursday night’s revote by the Village club, the contenders first had another chance to address the club. Stand-up comic turned political candidate Randy Credico, a merciless Cuomo critic, chided V.I.D. for not backing him the last time around. 

“I earned the right to be endorsed by this club. But this is not a radical club — this is a Jacobin club,” accused Credico, who is also a student of political history. 

He admitted, however, that Teachout has “got a lot of buzz” right now. 

“She’s a very dynamic candidate,” he said. “Cuomo is probably more fearful of her than me.” 

With a final impersonation of Jimmy Stewart, followed by a declaration of, “I’m the Robespierre of the Democratic Party,” and “You’re Danton,” flung humorously at a V.I.D.’er., he strode out of the room, pushing his “running mate,” his little white dog, ahead of him in a baby stroller. 

Next to have the floor, Teachout blasted Cuomo for not having achieved a Democratic-led State Senate or campaign finance reform, both of which he had promised he would bring about. In fact, she branded him “a good, moderate Republican.”

Actually, at the very moment, Cuomo was “at a fundraiser Upstate with two Republicans,” she charged.

“Someone with core Democratic values would take a clear stance on fracking,” she said. “New York should be leading on that question of banning fracking.”  

During questions from club members, Charles Stimson asked why she didn’t vote last year, to which Teachout responded she had been out of town at a political event. But there were three different dates to vote — the mayoral primary, the general election and the public-advocate runoff between Tish James and Daniel Squadron — he noted. Unfazed, a smiling Teachout responded that she’s committed to running. 

Finally, Erik Bottcher, Cuomo’s local liaison, spoke for the governor. He noted Cuomo passed marriage equality, plus has handled three 100-year storms in three-and-a-half years, including Hurricane Sandy, and won federal funding to deal with the disasters’ effects. 

Unemployment is down to pre-2008 levels, he pointed out, while the state has its highest credit rating since 1972.

Also, Cuomo has closed 13 Upstate prisons, he said, noting, “We don’t build prisons to give people jobs.” The amount of solar-powered energy in the state has quadrupled under Cuomo, who also acquired land in the Adirondacks for the state, he added. 

“These are progressive accomplishments that haven’t made the cover of The New York Times,” he stressed. 

Club members then continued the discussion among themselves.

V.I.D.’s Nat Johnson warned that Cuomo, if elected, would surely push ahead with legalizing fracking. But Bottcher replied that Cuomo has said he won’t make a decision while environmental studies on fracking’s safety are still being done. 

“There’s no rush to move forward with this,” he said. “The studies are still taking place.” 

Keen Berger said she was backing Teachout because of her stance on two issues of deep importance to her — public education and campaign finance reform.

Meanwhile, two other local clubs have already endorsed Teachout — Coalition for a District Alternative (CoDA), the leading East Village political club, and the Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club, a gay organization led by Allen Roskoff.

During a speech last month at V.I.D., Teachout said that while she planned to be “in it to win it,” she also hoped to pressure Cuomo on the issues. A strong run by Teachout, even if she doesn’t win, could put a dent in Cuomo’s presidential ambitions, many say, denying him the overwhelming mandate he wants.

“I would love to be the governor of New York,” Teachout said. “But I would also like to get this governor of ours back inside the Democratic fold, get a little discipline, actually listen to the deep, very heartfelt concerns of the Democrats of this state.”

She hammered Cuomo on fracking, saying she hopes that during the campaign he will “feel pressure” to announce a ban on the hotly debated drilling technique. The governor, she declared, should “commit to protecting our state from poison, and commit to sustainable energy — sun, solar and wind — that would not only create a sustainable state, but also create jobs.

Her message is clearly resonating with Downtown progressives.

Sean Sweeney, a leading member of Downtown Independent Democrats, said Teachout seems to be a shoo-in.

“I fully expect her to be endorsed,” he said. “Cuomo has engendered a lot of antagonism amongst the D.I.D. grassroots, while Zephyr better embodies their beliefs.”

Sweeney also cited Cuomo’s “resistance to taxing the wealthy.”

He conceded that, in his opinion, voting for Teachout is “a protest vote,” but that her campaign can hurt Cuomo nonetheless.

“If she gets 25 or 30 percent, that’s embarrassing,” he said, 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.”

But while some leading Downtown Democratic clubs are championing Teachout, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re the ultimate barometer for this election. After all, last year, V.I.D., D.I.D. and CoDA all backed John Liu for mayor in the primary, feeling he was the most progressive candidate. But hamstrung by a campaign finance scandal, Liu wound up finishing fourth.

And elected officials certainly aren’t going to toss Cuomo overboard. Assemblymember Deborah Glick’s home club is V.I.D., but she said she’s supporting the governor for re-election — though she hasn’t issued a formal endorsement statement.

“I don’t know her. I haven’t heard her speak,” Glick said of Teachout.

“When you’re a candidate, it’s one thing,” she noted. “When you have to govern, it’s different. Being governor is a tough job.

“I’ve certainly had my differences with the governor,” Glick said. “But, on balance, he has demonstrated that government can work, at a time when the opposition — and I mean the Republicans and conservatives — are saying that government can’t work and should be done away with. And through the floods and emergencies, he’s demonstrated that government can do things, and there’s a reason for government.”

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