V.I.D. is ‘riding the Zephyr’; Backs upstart versus Cuomo
BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | After previously voting “no endorsement” in the Democratic primary for governor, the Village Independent Democrats last Thursday reconsidered their position, ultimately throwing their support behind political newcomer Zephyr Teachout.
Teachout, a Fordham law professor, entered the Democratic primary in June after losing the Working Families Party endorsement to Governor Andrew Cuomo — and after V.I.D., in a rebuke of Cuomo, had already voted 26-0 for “no endorsement” in the race.
Before last Thursday night’s revote, the contenders first had another chance to address the club. Stand-up comic turned political candidate Randy Credico, a merciless Cuomo critic, chided V.I.D. for not backing him the last time around.
“I earned the right to be endorsed by this club. But this is not a radical club — this is a Jacobin club,” accused Credico, who is also a student of political history.
He admitted, however, that Teachout has “got a lot of buzz” right now.
“She’s a very dynamic candidate,” he said. “Cuomo is probably more fearful of her than me.”
With a final impersonation of Jimmy Stewart, followed by a declaration of, “I’m the Robespierre of the Democratic Party,” and “You’re Danton,” flung humorously at a V.I.D.’er., he strode out of the room, pushing his “running mate,” his little white dog, ahead of him in a baby stroller.
As for Credico’s blasting V.I.D. as not being radical, veteran club member Frieda Bradlow later said it puzzled her.
“We never posed as radicals,” she shrugged.
Next to have the floor, Teachout blasted Cuomo for not having achieved a Democratic-led state Senate or campaign finance reform, both of which he had promised he would bring about. In fact, she branded him “a good, moderate Republican.”
Actually, at the very moment, Cuomo was “at a fundraiser Upstate with two Republicans,” she charged.
“Someone with core Democratic values would take a clear stance on fracking,” she declared. “New York should be leading on that question of banning fracking.”
Saying, if elected, she would focus on infrastructure, she noted, “and I think public education is a fundamental part of infrastructure,” earning a round of applause from club members.
During questions from club members, Charles Stimson asked why she didn’t vote last year, to which Teachout responded she had been out of town at a political event. But there were three different dates to vote — the mayoral primary, the general election and the public-advocate runoff between Tish James and Dan Squadron — he noted. Unphazed, a smiling Teachout responded that she’s committed to running.
She then said she was off to submit her more than 40,000 petition signatures, quite a cushion, since only 15,000 are needed to get on the ballot.
Finally, Erik Bottcher, Cuomo’s local liaison, spoke for the governor. He noted Cuomo passed marriage equality, plus has handled three 100-year storms in three-and-a-half years, including Sandy, and won federal funding to deal with the disasters’ effects.
Unemployment is down to pre-2008 levels, he said, while the state has its highest credit rating since 1972.
Also, Cuomo has closed 13 Upstate prisons, he said, noting, “We don’t build prisons to give people jobs.” The amount of solar-powered energy in the state has quadrupled under Cuomo, who also acquired land in the Adirondacks for the state, he added.
“These are progressive accomplishments that haven’t made the cover of The New York Times,” he stressed.
As for campaign finance reform, the Dream Act and GENDA (the Gender Non-Discrimination Act), Bottcher predicted these will all be passed next year.
Scott Kaplan asked why Cuomo is only supporting “a small, pilot program for medical marijuana,” to which Bottcher replied, “I don’t think the governor is in favor of legalizing marijuana.”
V.I.D.’s Nat Johnson warned that Cuomo, if elected, would surely push ahead with legalizing fracking. But Bottcher replied that Cuomo has said he won’t make a decision while environmental studies on fracking’s safety are still being done.
“There’s no rush to move forward with this,” he said. “The studies are still taking place.”
Hitting Cuomo on another progressive point, Alec Pruchnicki said, “At some point, we’ve got to start taxing the rich.”
Added Johnson, “We can’t trust him. We know that he’s in this only for himself — 2016, if Hillary [Clinton] doesn’t run.”
Keen Berger said she was backing Teachout because of her stance on two issues of deep importance to her — public education and campaign finance reform.
Added Jim Fouratt, “We have a really good chance here to support a progressive Democrat who is a woman.”
However, Anne Heaney offered, “Teachout isn’t quite ready for prime time. She’s a little naive.”
Bradlow reminded everyone of a core club credo: “Never let someone who is unsatisfactory go unchallenged. … There is a legitimate challenger to Andrew Cuomo,” she said of Teachout.
However, Stimson said, while Cuomo, at least in the Village, is seen “as not liberal enough,” many Upstaters hate the strong gun-control laws he passed, for example.
Similarly, state voters are said to be split 50/50 on fracking.
“I think Teachout is a fraud!” he declared.
Finally, it was time to vote. A Paragon bag was passed around to collect the paper ballots. The final tally was 14 for Teachout, six for Cuomo, two for Credico and four “no endorsements.”
V.I.D. President Tony Hoffmann later noted that if Teachout had gotten just one less vote, she actually wouldn’t have claimed the endorsement, since she would not have had a majority.
Asked for his take on the result, he said, “I think Teachout was saying what V.I.D. considers its political principles — and they liked what they heard. I think a strong anti-fracking statement, that was a biggie — the biggest.
“I think she’s legitimate candidate, a legitimate protest vote,” he said. “But if she was just a protest, we wouldn’t have endorsed her. Is she an underdog? Yes, because she’s new to politics. She will carry forth our vision of what New York State will look like.
“She’s a legitimate candidate — well-spoken, articulate, attractive — and knows what the issues are. I think the main issue that turned the tide was fracking.”
As for Stimson’s attack on Teachout’s voting record, Hoffman said, “If she voted or not is not as important as where she stands on the issues of New York today and what she would do about fracking, education, charter schools, taxing the wealthy.
“In the general election, it will be between Cuomo and an archconservative, the Republican,” he noted. “Rob Astorino is going be pro-life and Cuomo is pro-choice. Astorino is going to be pro-fracking and Cuomo is going to be saying, ‘I’m studying the issue, but I haven’t done anything.’ Unless these issues come out in the primary, they won’t come out in the election. Zephyr is the right person to bring up these important issues in the primary.
“Nobody’s saying that Cuomo is the devil,” Hoffmann noted. “We all recognize it’s hard to govern. What we do is bring up issues that New Yorkers feel are important, and we do that through the endorsement process.”
Progressive local elected officials that are members of V.I.D., like Assemblymember Deborah Glick and state Senator Brad Hoylman, aren’t going to reject Cuomo and endorse Teachout, “because they have to work with him,” Hoffman noted.
“It’s like ‘good cop / bad cop,’ ” he explained of how the clubs and politicians together can push Cuomo to where they feel he needs to be.
Coalition for a Democratic Alternative, the East Village’s leading political organization, also has endorsed the upstart Teachout.
Michael Farrin, CoDA’s political director, said, “She’s certainly more than the ‘typical protest candidate.’ Win or lose, she’ll send a powerful message to centrist, Republican-lite Democrats.”