Why Zephyr Teachout’s Loss Is Still Promising For Progressives

In Articles, YouTube Posts by hmdalloul2 Comments

Democratic incumbent Andrew Cuomo beat out his opponent, “no-name” Fordham law school professor Zephyr Teachout, in the recent New York gubernatorial primary. Teachout, who teaches constitutional law, has been a long-time anti-corruption activist and advocate for campaign finance reform.

She and her choice for Lieutenant Governor, Columbia Law School professor Tim Wu, the man who coined the phrase “net neutrality,” saw their race as a stand against “corporate Democrats,”–opening up politics in New York to all people, not just those who are wealthy and connected. Teachout said she wants to “get rid of the capacity of corporations to donate to campaigns.” Instead she has advocated public financing for all statewide and legislative elections in order to “let the people who aren’t rich or who don’t want to rely on special interest to run.” She also believes that getting the money out of politics is important for weeding out corruption.

This is particularly important in New York state, where a string of officeholders in Albany (29 as of 2013) have been convicted of a crime or accused of wrongdoing. Cuomo himself said that the corruption in Albany “could make Boss Tweed blush.” In an interview with Sam Seder on The Young Turks’ network partner, The Majority Report, Teachout said that the key to weeding out corruption is the institutions made to fight it– a reference to the Governor’s own failed anti-corruption commission.

In 2013 Governor Cuomo created the Moreland Commission  to expose public corruption through investigations of political donations and communications between companies and public officials. In a press conference in 2013, he said that the commission would be totally independent and free to investigate anything, including his own office. But, a few months later, the Governor’s office was rumored to have interfered with the commission’s investigations when the board attempted to subpoena companies with ties to Cuomo and his supporters. A three-month investigation by The New York Times  revealed that Governor Cuomo’s senior aide, Lawrence Schwartz, had interfered in the commission’s operations several times to protect the Governor– in one instance directing the board to “pull back,” a subpoena served to a media-buying firm that bought air time for the Governor’s campaign in 2010.  Ultimately, the Governor disbanded the commission after only 8 months– 10 months before its planned end-date– claiming that the commission had done its job.

Though Teachout lost the election, she did garner a surprising percentage of the votes– 35.5% to Cuomo’s 60.7%–considering Cuomo’s staggering advantages: a widely recognized name, incumbent status, huge funding chest, and big-name endorsements that included Hillary Clinton. In fact, Cuomo spent 20 million dollars on his campaign while Teachout spent only $283,000. Some are citing her success as part of a rising Democratic populist movement– the same movement backing Senator Elizabeth Warren. In her concession speech on Tuesday, she said, “We hope this inspires hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands of other candidates to stand up for what they believe in, to run for offices they think they can fill, and to join this great wave which is just beginning here.”  Teachout said that she surpassed her goal of 25% of the vote and celebrated her campaign’s part in pulling the Governor farther left on fracking and immigration.

If a no-name progressive like Zephyr Teachout could give Governor Cuomo a run for his money, there is nothing stopping her and other progressives from making a splash in 2016. We want to know who your choice is to run against Hillary Clinton in the presidential primary. No one is off-limits– choose whoever you believe would be the best candidate. You can submit your pick at [email protected]. Choices with a minimum number of submissions will be posted on the website at tytnetwork.com/petitions, along with a petition to collect the names of their supporters.


Contact the author:
Jennifer Swanson
[email protected]




  1. Great piece! i’m always for getting rid of corrupt corporate sellout democrats who make the party look no better than the uber-corporatist republicans. especially, “Quid-Pro Cuomo.” hopefully teachout hurt him enough politically that he’ll abandon any notions of national office.

  2. As a full-time staffer for TeachoutWu, Ic an say that the view from the inside was amazing and inspiring. Masses of disaffected progressives finally hearing a clarion call to both help out with the campaign and be heard by the powers that be.

    I have run for local office before, and will likely run again. I hope that everyone that want’s their own government to be more responsive to also run for office, because win or lose, they will affect the outcome of the public policy just like Zephyr did.

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