Law professor Zephyr Teachout officially announced her run for Congress today, aiming to rally popular support in the 19th Congressional District around issues like small business recovery, education, the environment and political corruption.
Teachout, a professor at Fordham Law School in New York City, made a name for herself running to the left of incumbent Andrew Cuomo in the 2014 Democratic primary for governor.
She won 34 percent of the vote in that contest, beating Cuomo comfortably in each of the 11 counties of the 19th Congressional District.
The 19th District comprises all of Columbia, Delaware, Greene, Otsego, Schoharie, Sullivan and Ulster counties, and parts of Broome, Dutchess, Montgomery and Rensselaer counties.
The seat is currently held by U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson. He will step down at the end of the year. He announced his decision last January, saying he was done with Congress but not with politics.
This morning, after weeks of signalling, Teachout launched her campaign website and made her run official in a news release and on social media.
“I’m running for Congress to give people their voices back so together we can address the real concerns facing our communities,” Teachout wrote in a Facebook post. “I hope you join me. I hope you sign up to follow the campaign, and to contribute — early money, however small, means everything.”
Last week, Teachout received the combined endorsement of the Democratic party leaders of the district.
“She grew up in an area like this one, so she understands the needs of a district like ours,” Dutchess County Democratic Committee Chairwoman Elisa Sumner said today. “And we believe she’s not a career politician. She believes in the people, she’s anti-corruption and we believe she can hit the ground running and turn this district blue.”
Republicans and Conservatives in the district have a slight advantage over Democrats, with about 14,000 more combined registered voters. Another 30,000 or so are registered as independents.
The Republican and Conservative endorsements have been going mostly to former state Assemblyman John Faso, with Dutchess County businessman Andrew Heaney promising to overlook the endorsements and mount a primary challenge.
Teachout lives in Dover Plains in Dutchess County.
“I have spent a lot of time over the last two years not just living here but traveling the district,” she said today.
That included a tour of the area pushing renewable energy, she said, which will continue as a focus of her campaign. She said she’s concerned about the environmental threats posed by natural gas pipelines and oil trains, and sees renewable energy as not only a more environmentally friendly path, but a better economic engine for the state.
She also plans to make education policy a central part of her platform— she was an opponent of the “federal government’s overreach” in education with Common Core — as well as an economic development plan that focuses on small business growth, a topic at the heart of a book she is currently writing, she said.
As in her run against Cuomo, she’ll be targeting corruption and the effects of “big money” in politics. She’s entering a race with two Republican opponents who have already raised more than $600,000 each for their campaigns.
“I think part of the reason that so many people feel shut out of the political process is because it feels like it’s become all about the money,” she said. “And I have a lot of respect for voters and I think they’re willing to listen to the message, not the money.”
In her gubernatorial campaign, she said, she raised more than $500,000 from 9,000 individual donors for an average donation of about $57.
“That’s not big money, that’s real people’s money,” she said.
Teachout, a Vermont native, worked on former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean’s presidential campaign in 2004 before moving to New York in 2009. During her gubernatorial run, she faced a residency challenge that was dismissed in court.
She previously served as national director of the Sunlight Foundation, which aims to increase transparency in Congress.
Responses from the campaigns of Faso and Heaney today quickly painted Teachout as a “radical” and associated her with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, whom she has supported.
Montgomery County Democratic Committee Chairwoman Bethany Schumann-McGhee said while Teachout’s primary success in the district in 2014 is promising, it will be a different story when she’s running in a general election against a Republican.
“I think certainly one of the positive things is that she’s got great statewide name recognition based on the campaign she ran a little over a year ago,” she said. “It’s shaping up to be an interesting race.”
On gun rights, which for many in the rural counties is a make-or-break issue, Teachout criticized the rushed passage of the NY-SAFE Act and said she opposes parts of it, though she supports background checks for gun buyers.
“I’ll lay out a full vision later, but I want to talk to people,” she said.
She said she’s planning a roughly six-week tour of the district and will likely hold a campaign kick-off event sometime this spring.
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