Fordham law professor, Zephyr Teachout, plans on giving incumbent Gov. Andrew Cuomo a run for his money in the upcoming Democratic primary, which will take place on Sept. 9.
About 200 people gathered at the Foothills Performing Arts Center in downtown Oneonta Saturday night to meet Teachout and hear her speak on issues ranging from Common Core testing and corruption in Albany to hydraulic fracturing, women’s rights and the rising cost of college tuition. After her speech, Teachout opened the floor to questions from the crowd, which was largely comprised of retired teachers.
In addition to her work as a law professor at Fordham University, Teachout’s experience in the education field extends to time spent working as a special education teacher’s aide. According to Teachout, public education is the “infrastructure of democracy.” She stressed the importance of funding public schools and encouraging small class sizes with an emphasis on arts, music, sports and counseling services. She criticized Cuomo’s handling of New York’s public education system.
“Unlike Gov. Andrew Cuomo, I would not begin my administration by pushing for one of the largest cuts to school funding in state history,” Teachout said.
She summarized her stance on high stakes testing by quoting a North Carolinian farmer who once told her “You can’t fatten a hog by weighing it.”
Teachout made it clear she opposes the current common core standards that many have argued were too hastily implemented.
“Students are complex people and need to be paid attention to as individuals,” she said.
Teachout made a point to mention the increasing financial burden of students seeking higher education in New York and said it’s time to recommit to higher education.
“It’s a policy decision. It’s not an act of nature. Four years ago, Cuomo said that tuitions need to rise because they’re at rock bottom. And they’ve been rising ever since,” Teachout said. “Rising tuition is the result of a policy choice to put the burden on students.”
Teachout said she believes such a policy decision is a mistake. She explained how the burden of debt not only prevents students from pursuing higher education, but also prevents graduates from investing in homes and businesses of their own.
Limiting financial barriers to higher education is necessary to create a sustainable small business economy, according to Teachout.
“Cuomo’s economic policy is indistinguishable from Ronald Reagan’s,” Teachout said. “It is trickle-down economics and it doesn’t work. His agenda has not been a democratic agenda. Millionaire’s tax repeal, that’s what he fought for.”
Teachout, a self-proclaimed “ol’ fashioned trustbuster,” emphasized the importance of preventing big businesses from gaining monopolies in order for a small business economy to thrive.
“Here’s your history lesson for the night. Thomas Jefferson wanted an anti-monopoly law in the constitution. If we allow power to be concentrated in the hands of too few that’s a democratic threat not just an economic threat,” Teachout said.
The gubernatorial candidate has made her stance against hydraulic fracturing clear from the get-go. The crowd at The Foothills roared, some even stood up in applause, when Teachout announced she would ban fracking in New York if she were elected governor. Teachout said that New York must ban fracking, ban the toxic waste associated with the process and stop building the infrastructure used to frack gas.
She criticized Cuomo’s silence on this pressing environmental issue and attributed the governor’s silence to large donations from pro-fracking groups to his campaign. Gov. Cuomo has said he will wait to make a decision on the fracking issue until the science comes in.
“The science is in,” said Teachout. “This is way too dangerous for our health, our kids and our agriculture. We cannot afford to follow the path of Pennsylvania.”
“Fracking is inconsistent with the best New York has to offer,” said Teachout, who was recently endorsed by Josh Fox, the maker of the documentary “Gasland.”
“I think that stopping hydro-fracking in New York so far has been one of the greatest environmental victories in decades,” Teachout said.
A lifelong feminist, Teachout blames Cuomo for the failure of the Women’s Equality Act, a ten-point bill aimed at protecting women in the workplace, strengthening human trafficking laws, achieving pay equity and codifying Roe v. Wade into New York state law.
“It failed because we didn’t have a democratic senate. We didn’t have a democratic senate because Andrew Cuomo didn’t want one,” Teachout said.
Teachout explained that Gov. Cuomo had the chance to veto a 2011 redistricting bill which benefited republicans, however, he did not veto that bill. “Had he vetoed that redistricting, we would have a democratic senate and the Women’s Equality Act would have passed.”
She added that “there is something considerable missing though, which is family leave. In fact, Andrew Cuomo has been silent on family leave. Women are overwhelmingly the caregivers of either elderly parents, sick family members or children. So, the absence of family leave affects everybody but it especially affects women.” Teachout said she was offended that Cuomo created the Women’s Equality Party line after failing to pass the Women’s Equality Act.
“The majority of people in that party are men. I know… You can’t make this up! You’d think he’d at least recruit a few more women to run,” Teachout said.
Teachout said she supported Cuomo when he first took office and promised to “clean up Albany” four years ago. She recalled when Gov. Cuomo stood in front of a building named after Boss Tweed and said Albany’s corruption would make “Boss Tweed blush.”
Teachout reminded the audience of Cuomo’s many broken promises and highlighted his latest ethics scandal regarding his failed Moreland Commission, an anti-corruption commission he abruptly shut down when it began to probe his political allies.
“I think that might make Boss Tweed Blush,” said Teachout.
As of the last filing period, Teachout had received 3,800 donations with an average of $53 per donation. In that same period, Cuomo received less than 200 donations. Still, he has largely out-funded Teachout since his donors have deeper pockets.
“Who you raise money from becomes who you serve,” Teachout said. “Cuomo serves his donors.”
Teachout’s greatest obstacle is surely her lack of name recognition amongst the general population. Zephyr Teachout isn’t exactly a household name. Aware of her underdog status, Teachout seems confident in her grassroots support.
“Once people know I exist, they are happy about it,” Teachout laughed.