It seems that all the political commentary in the wake of last Tuesday's Democratic primary for governor focused on the impact it had on Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his political future.
Many in politics focused before the primary on how much ground Cuomo would give to an unknown opponent. His margin of victory would be a yardstick for how much support he has for his policies, a referendum on the Moreland scandal, a measure of how much clout he would retain during his next term as governor, and a predictor for his viability as a future presidential candidate.
All that attention to how much the race affected Cuomo overlooked the quality of the candidate that challenged him, the validity of her positions, and the people's ability and willingness to decide for themselves who best to represent them.
The race exposed Cuomo's vulnerabilities, but also displayed his challenger's qualities.
Until a couple of weeks ago, Zephyr Teachout was an unknown college professor with an unusual name and a snowball's chance in you-know-where. During the last month of the campaign, however, she turned that around by making her case to as many people who would listen. In conversations, she was articulate and focused. She knew her positions on the issues and could clearly state her justification for them. In interviews, she was pleasant and professional, humble but strong. No scandals followed her around. She uttered no gaffes nor posted any regrettable Tweets. She sharply criticized her opponent's record and his ethics, both legitimate targets, but did so without appearing nasty or desperate.
Despite a complete lack of experience in public office, she made you think she could actually be governor. And yet despite being outspent by a ridiculous margin by an incumbent governor whose last name is known to every single New Yorker, she made a race of it. That is a testament to her own qualities, separate from the governor's vulnerabilities.
It also is a testament to the voters.
Many assume that big money and name recognition is all you need to win an election these days. Underfinanced unknowns might as well not bother. Teachout's campaign proved that it is not the case.
Her success — and the success of her running mate, Tim Wu, another unknown who did well on Tuesday — should serve as encouragement to other candidates considering the uphill climb against the power of incumbency: If you've got a strong message, take positions that resonate with voters and you're not a total lunatic, people will give you a chance and vote for you.
Sure, Cuomo still won by a healthy margin. And his victory can be seen as an endorsment of his policies.
But because of Teachout's campaign, those in state leadership, particularly the governor, will have to pay more attention to other voices. They'll have to think more carefully about their positions on hydrofracking, Common Core, economic development and tax policy. They’ll have to rethink how much vitriol they aim at public employees and unions. They’ll have to accept the fact that the public does indeed weigh ethical conduct in deciding which little circle to fill in on their ballot cards.
Last Tuesday's primary was more than simply a referendum on Cuomo. It was a message to incumbents, potential challengers and the public that the democratic process in New York is still alive and well.
Zephyr Teachout can take a lot of credit for that.