Zephyr Teachout — the law professor who challenged Gov. Andrew Cuomo in a 2014 Democratic primary — confirmed Thursday that she is considering a bid for the open 19th District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.
She said she plans on speaking with party leaders across the district that includes parts of 11 counties over the next couple of weeks and would make a decision within a month. Teachout surprised many political watchers when she scored 34 percent of the vote in the 2014 primary against Cuomo.
“I’m pretty serious about it,” she said in a phone interview Thursday. “It’s a big decision and I’m thinking about it.”
Teachout, a professor at Fordham Law School in New York City, took up residence in the district in March after starting to rent a place in Dover Plains in Dutchess County. She still maintains an apartment in the city and commutes back and forth for work, she said.
She said she has traveled through much of the district in recent years, during her campaign, a book tour and a campaign to move away from fossil fuels. Teachout grew up in rural Vermont.
If Teachout jumps into the race, she would represent a serious Democratic contender in the drive to replace Republican Rep. Chris Gibson, who announced last year he wouldn’t seek another term.
A handful of Republicans have already announced candidacies, including Assemblyman Pete Lopez of Schoharie, former Assemblyman John Faso of Kinderhook and Andrew Heaney, a business owner in Dutchess County.
The district, which edges up to the major population centers of the Schenectady-Albany area, encompasses all of Schoharie County, includes Cooperstown and Oneonta to the west and stretches south through the Hudson River Valley to the northern edge of Poughkeepsie.
Republicans have a slight voter enrollment edge over Democrats in the district — around 147,000 to 144,000 — and many more potential votes in the form of 11,000 voters enrolled in the Conservative Party, according to voter enrollment data as of April 1, 2014. Nearly 30,000 more voters in the district are registered as independents.
Cliff Hay, who has served as chairman of the Schoharie County Democratic Committee for over 40 years, said he had spoken with Teachout by phone in the last two weeks as well as other Democrats interested in the seat.
“There are numerous people out there,” Hay said. “I’m not committed; we have to see what is happening and who is the best candidate, because it is a seat that can be won.”
In 2014, Gibson beat Democratic challenger Sean Eldridge 62.6 percent to 34.5 percent.
Hay said Democrats need to understand the needs of agricultural communities and walk a careful balance on issues like gun control to succeed in the largely rural district. He said Teachout’s short residency in the district didn’t bother him, citing Hillary Clinton’s election to the Senate shortly after moving to the state.
“I think people are looking for the best person; they don’t have to be a lifelong resident of Schoharie County or Delaware County,” he said. “I think we need the best person regardless of where they come from.”