Cuomo’s Teachout Challenge Tossed, Stage Set for Sept. Primary

Zephyr Teachout
Anti-Common Core firebrand Zephyr Teachout is running for Congress.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s campaign struck out for the second time in successive weeks as it tried, but failed, to knock Democratic primary challenger Zephyr Teachout off the ballot, unsuccessfully arguing that she hasn’t lived in New York State long enough to run for governor.

A state appellate court unanimously ruled Wednesday in favor of Teachout, who was also victorious last week when a lower court shot down Cuomo’s residency challenge.

“Although Zephyr R. Teachout has resided in several different residences within the City of New York since 2009, while maintaining close connections to her childhood [home] of Vermont, that is nothing more than an ambiguity in the residency calculus,” the four-judge panel hearing the case wrote in their decision. “The burden in this proceeding is not on Teachout to establish residency, but rather, upon the petitioners to establish by clear and convincing evidence that she does not meet the residency requirements” established by the state constitution.

“The Supreme Court’s determination that the petitioners failed to meet their burden of demonstrating that Teachout did not meet the constitutional residency requirements for the office of governor is warranted by the facts,” the judges added.

After the ruling, Teachout’s campaign sent an email to supporters in which it called Cuomo’s lawsuit “frivolous” and highlighted several issues that Teachout has used to fire up her supporters: schools, fracking—a hot button issue that Cuomo failed to address during his first term—and what the campaign called “Cuomo’s abuse of power in Albany,” a not-so-subtle jab at the governor, whose office is facing allegations of interfering with the Moreland Commission that he tasked with investigating political corruption before he unceremoniously disbanded it in March.

The stage is now set for a Sept. 9 primary between Cuomo, who is armed with a more than $30 million war chest and is still viewed favorably by a majority of New Yorkers, and Teachout, a Fordham Law School professor with a strong following among progressives but still largely unknown by many voters in the state.

Teachout appears emboldened by Cuomo’s attempt to push her off the primary ballot. Her campaign was also buoyed by an endorsement from the New York State Public Employees Federation, the second-largest employee union in the state. Earlier this month she also got the nod from the Progressive Change Campaign Committee.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has failed to push his Democratic primary challenger Zephyr Teachout off the ballot.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has failed to push his Democratic primary challenger Zephyr Teachout off the ballot.

She’s also received a substantial amount of press, including frequent coverage in The New York Times—partly due to Cuomo’s lawsuit against her—national news outlets and in the Village Voice, the New York City alt-weekly, which featured the gubernatorial-hopeful on its cover for an article titled: “The Outsider: Zephyr Teachout Will Never Be Governor, So Why is Andrew Cuomo Worried?”

Teachout isn’t all Cuomo needs to worry about, however. A Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday which revealed that 48 percent of voters believe Cuomo is part of the state’s “corruption problem.”

Those same voters, though, appear conflicted. Fifty-percent disapprove of how Cuomo has handled ethics in state government, but the same percentage of voters also find him honest and trustworthy.

Despite recent efforts to improve her visibility, Teachout is still a relative unknown, according to the poll, which found that 88 percent of voters don’t know enough about her.

Maurice Carroll, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll, said of Teachout: she’s “about as anonymous as a candidate can be.”

Teachout has repeatedly called on Cuomo to debate her, but the governor has yet to respond to her invitation.

She’s not the only one proposing a debate.

NY1 and Time Warner Cable News in Albany this week sent an invitation to both Cuomo and Teachout to a live debate on Sept. 2.

Teachout’s campaign has already signed up.

Cuomo has until Aug. 28 to RSVP.