For first-time candidate Zephyr Teachout, just getting on the Democratic ballot to force a primary with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo will be difficult and beating him would seem a long shot.
But Teachout, a Fordham University law professor who served as director of online organizing for Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential campaign, says she’ll get on the ballot and battle Cuomo in what would be a Sept. 9 primary.
Teachout says she takes inspiration from a recent election on the opposite end of the political spectrum: Tea party challenger Dave Brat upsetting House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a Virginia GOP congressional primary last week.
“His win … shows that we’re in a moment in American history where people are ready for just a different analysis of what’s wrong,” she said in an interview in her newly opened Manhattan campaign office. “What we saw is an unknown law professor take on one of the most powerful politicians in the country and win.”
Teachout, 42, has a politician’s wide smile and an overachiever’s resume that includes stints with a nonprofit that trained recent law school graduates to work on death penalty cases and a group that promotes transparency and accountability in Congress.
The Working Families Party had been prepared to give Teachout its ballot line until Cuomo promised party activists in a phone conversation that he would campaign for a Democrat-controlled state Senate and back other liberal priorities including public financing of campaigns and raising the minimum wage.
“I feel like there were really important concessions made,” Teachout said.
While Cuomo has delivered on liberal issues such as same-sex marriage and gun control, he has angered progressives including Teachout by backing pro-business tax policies, promoting charter schools and playing a centrist’s role in partisan battles in the state Legislature.
Cuomo recently dismissed Teachout in a radio interview as a candidate from the “extreme left.”
In order to get on the Democratic ballot, Teachout needs 15,000 valid signatures from Democratic voters with at least 100 signatures coming from each of one-half of New York’s congressional districts.
That will be a steep climb, observers say.
“It’s not a high threshold for a candidate with genuine statewide support and infrastructure, but for a protest candidate gathering signatures on street corners, it’s difficult to get done,” said Michael Tobman, a Brooklyn-based political consultant.
Blair Horner, legislative director of the New York Public Interest Research Group, said Teachout will need double or triple the number of required signatures in order to survive the inevitable challenge.
“That’s going to mean that she has to have a serious statewide operation, and in some of these congressional districts you don’t have that many Democrats,” Horner said.
Polls show voters favoring Cuomo over his Republican challenger, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, by more than 2 to 1.
Teachout could have drawn liberal votes from Cuomo if she’d secured the Working Families ballot line, but now she must try to make her points about transparency and curbing corporate power in the Democratic primary race.
Horner said, “If she’s able to get on the ballot it’ll create an issue for the governor but he is very popular.”
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