Enormous sparkling chandeliers decorated most of the ceiling. A DJ rocked out to loud party tunes, some contemporary, but most from the ‘70s and ‘80s–like Blondie’s “Call Me,” and the British band Naked Eyes’ “Always Something There to Remind Me.” The bar served fancy cocktails while a few waitresses squeezed through the crowd, passing hors d’oeuvres.
Hudson Terrace was standing-room only with college students slumped in clumps by the bar. If it wasn’t for the open laptops, television crews and cameras, journalists with faces lit blue in Twitter-light and the presence of a “cautiously optimistic” Tim Wu, this could have been just another Manhattan nightclub.
Except it wasn’t. This was a night for Zephyr Teachout, a Fordham Law professor and the woman trying to make history by defeating Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and Wu, Teachout’s running mate, to bask in the glory of their insurgent campaign. With an insurmountable financial deficit and bare-bones campaign staff, there weren’t many people who believed the pair of professors would put a scare into the Cuomo-Kathy Hochul ticket-but they did.
Excited chatter could be heard through the music, a rolling electricity born of the knowledge that as polls closed across New York state at 9 p.m., the audience might bear witness to headline-worthy history. The Teachout/Wu “victory party” was underway.
Journalist after journalist besieged lieutenant governor candidate Wu, a Columbia Law professor, who maintained a cool exterior, his wife engulfed somewhere in the crowd.
“My favorite moments have been with my staff,” Wu told the Press, as he reflected on the campaign. “We’re a very small team of five of us. We’re a family taking on a massive million-dollar machine. It was kind of exciting. There were moments when we were like, ‘I can’t believe this is happening.’ I think when they (Cuomo and Hochul) first started striking back, we were like, ‘What on Earth is going on that Hillary Clinton is campaigning against us?’ ”
The Teachout/Wu gubernatorial campaign began as a grassroots trickle, a David-versus-Goliath effort to restore the New York Governor’s office to the Democratic values they both believe it had lost in Cuomo’s first term as governor. After three months of tireless campaigning, that trickle gave way to a tidal wave of small donor public support, leading to endorsements by the Sierra Club, the National Organization of Women, The Nation and, for Wu, The New York Times.
Teachout and Wu brought choice to the Democratic voters of New York, challenging the incumbent who possessed a massive war chest and was able to outspend them by what the Teachout campaign said was nearly 10 to one.
“I think the battle for the heart and soul of the Democratic Party is on right now,” Wu told the Press, using an oft-repeated campaign rallying cry. “Regardless of the result of this, it has begun.”
According to Teachout and Wu, that heart and soul is made up of progressive issues: income inequality, public education, fracking (they’d ban it), immigrant rights, and restoring a small business economy.
Jocelyn Carlisle, a voter who came out to the party to show her support, believed that the current administration had abandoned those values.
“You know what? We have a Democratic governor and a Democratic legislature and we’re talking about fracking in this state,” she complained to the Press. “I mean this is ridiculous! This is a complete sell out. I don’t want someone who’s supported by the Koch Brothers and by Big Oil and I want a true progressive.”
Yet, despite making significant inroads, around 10:30 p.m., the Associated Press called the election for Cuomo and Hochul. Mike Boland, Teachout’s campaign manager, announced that the underdogs had lost. At the time, Teachout had secured 35 percent of the vote and had won 23 counties, including Albany. (Teachout and Wu ended up with 34 and 40 percent of the vote, respectively, a result that symbolized significant dissatisfaction from tens of thousands of Democrats toward Cuomo.)
Wu took the stage first, thanking his supporters. In a nod perhaps to Lord Voldemort (the evil villain in the “Harry Potter” books whom Teachout and Wu previously likened themselves to), Wu never mentioned the name of his opponents who had failed to acknowledge the existence of Teachout/Wu campaign. Instead, he spoke of the heart of the Democratic ticket.
“We are now living in a period where we have lost touch with the fundamental American value of equality and that must change and the Democratic Party must lead that change,” he announced in his concession speech. “Corporations are not people. We need to reaffirm that this is a country that cares about humans more than it cares about legal fictions.”
He claimed that the Republican Party had “hijacked” the identity of the smart party of small business when “in fact all they are doing is everything possible to hijack our economy and deliver it to the interest of non-human parties.”
“That must stop,” he implored.
The first active step is for people like Teachout to step forward, he said.
“It has been one of the greatest honors of my life to be on the campaign trail with Zephyr,” added Wu. “I have this to say: Zephyr Teachout is the cure for cynicism. Cynicism haunts our country like a disease. People have lost faith. They look at issues like inequality, corruption, and they think there is nothing they can do and then they meet Zephyr and they say there is something we can do.”
Teachout took the stage with a wide grin and glassy eyes, vowing to celebrate the night. She cited Cuomo’s newfound progressive vision from recent promises of renewed cooperation with state Democrats to promising to be open to public campaign funding in the next term to “breaking the silence” on fracking as direct results–and clear victories–of her and Wu’s campaign.
Over chants of “Thank you! Thank you!” from the raucous crowd, Teachout conceded in an emotional and triumphant speech.
“I will not be your next governor, but the Democrats have been heard. You have been heard,” she told the crowd. “There is no politician in this state who doesn’t know about you and know about what you care about right now. Tonight.”
“We have made history,” she continued. “What we have done here is incredible. This campaign demonstrates the rise of a new force in New York politics and in American politics. It’s a fearless force. It’s of Democrats who believe in all of us and are willing to fight for it.
“Here’s what we’re fighting for: We are fighting for–you’ve heard me say it before but I’m not going to stop fighting for it–the best public schools in the country, we’re fighting to ban fracking, we’re fighting for a small business economy, we’re fighting to remain the state that is most open to immigrants of all the states in the country, and we are fighting against the scourge of inequality which we cannot afford.”
She spoke of the Moreland Commission scandal, which Cuomo reportedly disbanded when investigators got too close to his allies. She described the tacit support of the elected officials who failed to speak out against Cuomo at the time as a symptom of “the politics of fear.”
“I hope what we have shown is that it’s all right to speak up,” Teachout said. “Democrats don’t need to be scared anymore. I’m here. I’m with you. Nothing terrible has happened. Wonderful things have happened. So it is alright to speak up in Albany if maybe the governor is pushing for more tax cuts for the wealthy. Maybe somebody is pushing for more cuts to education. Maybe somebody is pushing for hydrofracking. Democrats of New York have to shed their fear and speak up against it.
“I think and hope that going forward they will do that, because elected officials may know they have a duty to criticize de facto leaders or to criticize the corruption they see, but when they have felt your force and know that you are behind them, they’re going to feel a lot more power and pride in speaking up,” she said.
Teachout stated her belief that her campaign succeeded in pushing the Cuomo agenda significantly to the left and holding the governor accountable for what she said were his right-leaning policy decisions.
“Because of our campaign, Andrew Cuomo is now actively campaigning on the DREAM Act,” Teachout declared. “Because of our campaign, he’s now actively campaigning, saying that he increased school funding, taking pride in increasing school funding which has been the bedrock of our campaign. We held the line and we wouldn’t compromise on women’s rights and Governor Andrew Cuomo has now fully committed to be behind all 10 points in the Women’s Equality Act.”
She ended her speech to thunderous applause, priding herself on her campaign’s ability to maintain dignity–and perhaps to help restore dignity–throughout the political process.
“I ran for an old-fashioned reason. I thought I’d make a better governor than the other guy. But I am thrilled–although that isn’t going to happen–I am thrilled with all of these victories we have had in these past three months. And one of the victories I hope we have had has to do with restoring dignity to our democracy. I believe in the equal dignity for every person. That’s a demanding belief, but it’s a serious one. We all have greater political dignity when we collectively act, we collectively come together and fight for people who don’t otherwise have a voice.”
Then she held her arms triumphantly in the air and you’d swear Goliath had been defeated after all.