Zephyr Teachout to Cuomo: Let’s Debate

Zephyr Teachout & Tim Wu
New York State Democratic gubernatorial primary candidate Zephyr Teachout and running mate Tim Wu filed a lawsuit Friday, Sept. 5, 2014, alleging Gov. Andrew Cuomo, his running mate Kathy Hochul and the New York State Democratic Committee violated state Election Law. (Photo courtesy of Teachout/Wu for New York State)

By successfully defending herself in court against Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s lawyers who argued last week that Zephyr Teachout should be thrown off the Democratic primary ballot because she’s not a true New Yorker, Teachout has shown she won’t back down. And now she wants a debate.

So do her supporters, one of whom created a moveon.org petition calling for a public debate. And so does the influential New York Times editorial board, which on Monday said Cuomo “should defend his first term in a series of robust debates with her in the weeks before the primary, rather than through the timidity of litigation.”

It’s unclear what Cuomo wants. (His campaign spokesperson did not return an e-mail seeking comment.)

The governor just returned from a much-publicized tour of Israel this week with Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) and other notable state lawmakers. The group reportedly declined a Palestinian invitation.

He has barely acknowledged Teachout’s existence, and when he finally did it was through his lawyers in court.

The Sept. 9 primary is now only three weeks away.

Teachout, a Fordham law professor, seemed galvanized by her victory in court Monday, when a state judge ruled against Cuomo’s attorneys, who argued that Teachout hasn’t lived in New York long enough to run for governor. Cuomo’s campaign immediately said it would appeal the ruling.

“There’s no more excuse—we need to have a debate,” Teachout told the Press after the ruling. “There are many serious policy decisions that will be made the next couple of years. Let’s have a debate about Common Core. Let’s have a debate about school funding. Let’s have a debate about fracking. We’d all benefit from that.”

The petition, created by a student at Fordham University School of Law, says New Yorkers deserve to hear both candidates before the primary.

“It is time to refocus the candidate debate away from political posturing in favor of political responsibility,” it reads. “We need to hear how our candidates respond when probed by people who either disagree with them or who simply want them to clarify their positions or provide more detail.”

Teachout and her running mate, Lt. Governor-hopeful Timothy Wu, have been fierce critics of Cuomo. She has called him a “corporate Democrat” who doesn’t represent blue collar New Yorkers. She also wasted no time criticizing him after the Times reported that close Cuomo aides interfered with the Moreland Commission, which he unceremoniously disbanded in March.

Teachout earlier this summer lost the Working Families Party nomination to Cuomo, but she has touted the ones she’s gained since then. This week, she was endorsed by the New York State Public Employees Federation, the second-largest employee union in the state. Earlier this month, she got the nod of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee.

Teachout has been busy on the campaign trail, but a recent poll found that the far majority of New Yorkers still don’t know who she is. Also, her campaign coffer is anemic compared to Cuomo’s, who, according to his campaign’s most recent financial disclosure, boasts a $32.4 million war chest. Teachout reportedly has $181,000 on hand.

It’s a debate Teachout wants. But she may not get her wish.

The ball is in Cuomo’s court.