Although the New York Times editorial board couldn’t bring itself to endorse Zephyr Teachout in her insurgent progressive bid to unseat Andrew Cuomo as the Democratic Party’s nominee for New York governor last August, it did allow that her candidacy was—pun intended—“A Teachout Moment.”
By way of explanation, the paper applauded Teachout for energizing “her audiences with humor and biting criticism of the governor’s ethical failings”; for denouncing Cuomo’s “tax breaks for the rich”; and for calling out his multiple failures to reform campaign finance, fix gerrymandered congressional districts, and pass laws protecting women’s equality. The paper noted, favorably, that Teachout described the incumbent governor as part of a “broken system” in which “public servants just end up serving the wealthy.” That is about as close to a full-throated endorsement as you can get without actually getting one.
That’s the way it goes for Zephyr Teachout: Technically a loser at the polls, she’s been a winner in the court of public opinion, where people are eager to hear what she thinks on a variety of important topics. After losing the primary to Cuomo on September 9—in which she garnered a surprising 34 percent of the vote and won half the state’s counties—the once and future candidate has enjoyed many more such “Teachout Moments.”
In the wake of her defeat, Teachout hasn’t shown any signs of fading into the background. She has traveled tirelessly across New York State in recent months, finding converts wherever she brings her upbeat message. She was a big hit during recent appearances on two popular late-night Comedy Central shows, and the book she’s been promoting, Corruption in America: From Benjamin Franklin’s Snuff Box to Citizens United, has generated significant media coverage and critical acclaim. It all adds up to the conclusion that we’ll likely be hearing a lot more about Zephyr Teachout in the future.
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In its non-endorsement, the Times could have hailed Teachout for encouraging the state’s “fractivist” movement. Her campaign pledge to ban fracking on her first day in office drew enthusiastic support from environmentalists, and her strong stance on the issue helped push Cuomo toward his unlikely postelection decision to enact a statewide ban. “I’m not going to deny him that that was his moment of leadership,” Teachout tells me, “but that does not make him a great governor.”
She has also kept the spotlight on Cuomo’s ethical breaches in the shuttering of the Moreland Commission, the supposedly independent panel that was looking into corruption in Albany. Referring to the efforts of Larry Schwartz, a former senior Cuomo adviser, to stymie the investigation, Teachout says: “I think it is so deeply troubling to have the governor’s top aide interfering with subpoenas.” Then, referring to Cuomo, she adds: “I think he still owes the public a story about whether he actually knew what was going on there…. He has lost all credibility as somebody who cares about corruption.”