Zephyr Rain Teachout is running in New York’s Congressional District (CD) 19, located in the Hudson Valley and Catskills regions, just north of the New York City metropolitan area and mostly south of Albany. As reported in Ballotpedia this CD

is a battleground district in 2016. Incumbent Chris Gibson (R), who began serving in Congress in 2011, chose not to seek re-election in 2016, leaving the seat open. Three Republican candidates will compete to replace Gibson: Andrew Heaney, former State Assemblyman John Faso, and Bob Bishop. State Assemblyman Peter Lopez briefly launched a Republican campaign, but withdrew in early 2016 after his father was diagnosed with cancer. Democratic candidates Zephyr Teachout, and Will Yandik will compete for the Democratic nomination. The primary elections will take place on June 28, 2016. (emphasis added)

With just days left until the primary and a recent NYT endorsement its crunch time!

So who is Zephyr Teachout? A Sanders Berniecrat? A Rockefeller Republican?

Attempting to capture Teachout in one phrase would do an injustice to what she represents as well as our readers’ intelligence. Instead, we present a bit of background and copious links to the information you need to contextual and decide.

Born in Vermont to constitutional law professor Peter Teachout and Mary Miles Teachout, a state court judge, she was the second of five children reared on a farm outside of Norwich, Vermont. As per Wikipedia:

Teachout attended Yale University, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1993. She went on to receive two simultaneous degrees from Duke University in 1999: a JD summa cum laude and a Master of Arts in political science. After attaining her law degree, Teachout clerked for Chief Judge Edward Roy Becker of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.

Currently a full-time faculty member at Fordham University Law School, she has served as

  • Clerk to Chief Judge Edward R. Becker of the US Court of Appeals;
  • Staff Attorney at the Center for Death Penalty Litigation;
  • Co-founding Executive Director at the Fair Trial Initiative;
  • Non-resident Fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law;
  • Lecturer at the University of Vermont;
  • National Director at the Sunlight Foundation; and
  • Visiting Asst. Professor of Law at Duke University.

Furthermore, she has presented and published widely in the academic, grey, and popular literature addressing corruption, Citizens United and lobbying, and electioneering. Most famously, she wrote Corruption in America: From Benjamin Franklin’s Snuff Box to Citizens United (2014 Harvard University Press) and Mouse Pads, Shoe Leather and Hope: Lessons from the Howard Dean Campaign for the Future of Internet Politics (Paradigm Press, 2007) (ed. with T. Streeter).

Political Experience

Dean For America (DFA)

Teachout, at 32, was Dean for America’s Director of Internet Organizing. In a 2003 NYT interview she was captured thus:

Teachout is a slight, freckled lawyer; she darts around the office in a pair of silver shoes with the balletic, boyish energy of Peter Pan. (”Have you seen how fast her hands move?” Rosen asks. ”She’ll click a mouse three times instead of once. I could watch her operate all day.”) …

Teachout, sitting at the very edge of her seat, tells me that ”the revolution,” as she calls it, has three phases; the first is Howard Dean himself, the second is Meetup.com and the third is the software that Rosen, Johnson and Brooks work with: Get Local, DeanLink, DeanSpace. ”DeanSpace,” Teachout says, ”is the revolution.”

The success of Dean’s internet organizing, in particular the interactive website, Blog for America, remains an important contribution to electoral politics. Her commentary then is instructive and revealing: “You guys are seizing political power back and are doing it in a really beautiful way.“Indeed, the inordinate success of Bernie Sanders’s self-funding demonstrates ‘the people’ can beautiful seize power.

It is also important to note a minor (though still simmering) kerfuffle between Teachout and Markos Moulitsas, another Dean devotee: Teachout had called out the need for bloggers to be transparent and maintain the distinction between independent editorials and paid promotion (aka, shilling) (see here, here, here, here and here). This context is helpful when sifting through some of the critiques of Teachout on the blogsphere.

Teachout’s NY Gubernatorial run in 2014

Teachout’s run began with a four-day “Whistleblower Tour” in August, “because we’re blowing the whistle on the corruption that we see,” including the “third-rate politics” destroying school systems, local infrastructure and the possibility of a renewable-energy economy for New York.

Indeed, a central issue during the Governor’s race was the level of corruption in NY politics, including Cuomo’s dismantling of and interference with the Moreland Commission. These concerns have been vindicated by US Attorney Preet Bharara’s investigation and convictions against, among others, both Dean Skelos (R) and Sheldon Silver (D). Given multiple investigations of NYC Mayor de Blasio currently, the issue remains front and center.

Throughout the contest many noted that the name Zephyr is Greek for West Wind, offering that Teachout’s challenge to Cuomo was, indeed, from the left. Addressing this and Teachout’s unequivocal anti-fracking stance, The Long Island Press highlighted the Sierra Club’s endorsement:

“Ms. Teachout is an articulate, engaging leader who will play a critical role in the resurgence of the Empire State, with a vision to rebuild New York through a robust clean energy economy and reinvigorate our democracy so that it works for everyone—not just the wealthy and well-connected,” said Jeff Bohner, chair of the Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter, in a statement.

Jaffe at The Nation captured it this way:

Teachout has been doing her best to agitate the bull by calling out Cuomo for what many see as his betrayal of basic Democratic principles in favor of stock Republican positions: his attacks on organized labor, his support for charter schools and high-stakes testing, and his penchant for cutting taxes for the rich while cutting services for the poor, to name a few. Embracing a brand of populism that stands in sharp contrast to Cuomo, Teachout has framed these differences as more than a series of policy quibbles. They are, in her formulation, a decisive choice between organizing political principles: between the corruption of private, insider power and the equality that can prevail through true democratic processes.

Of note, this ‘left’ run included a ‘floor fight‘ for the Working Families Party nomination in May 2014. After loosing the nom 58.66% to 41.34%, Teachout offered peace and stated:

My goal is to launch a different argument about what kind of America we want to live in, what kind of New York we want to live in, not what kind of New York we will settle to live in…I will never ask you to compromise your principles and values…No matter what happens here tonight, I want you to stand with each other to be good fighting friends together.

Likewise, Cuomo’s campaign attempted repeatedly to have Teachout thrown off the Democratic primary ballot by contesting her Brooklyn residency (see here, here, here, and here), an approach deemed “equal parts vicious and hamfisted“. Hindsight being 20/20, New Yorkers now know “the WFP got played,” ultimately weakening the WFP agenda (see here, here, and here).

Nevertheless, Teachout did well against Cuomo. As the NY Times reported:

Though she ran her campaign on a shoestring and with scarcely any organizational support, Ms. Teachout was on pace to record the strongest challenge to an incumbent governor since primaries for the office were established in New York in 1970…

Ms. Teachout carried counties in large portions of New York, from the Canadian border to New York City’s northern suburbs. She and Mr. Wu, who were endorsed by one of the major unions of state workers, also ran away with the race in Albany County and much of the capital region.

Teachout earned a respectable 33% of the overall vote and won the Capital Region core by 59-33 over Cuomo while garnering 77% of the vote in Columbia (see clickable map). In an article entitled “The Meaning of Andrew Cuomo’s Embarrassment“, Cassidy at the New Yorker said:

The strong showing by Teachout and Wu was a victory for progressive voters who warmed to their message about tackling rising inequality, political corruption, and corporate abuses. It was also a rejection of Cuomo’s economic philosophy, which led him to introduce a series of tax cuts for the rich, at the same time that he cut the state budgets for education and social services. I’d be willing to wager that most Democrats who voted against Cuomo objected more to his policies than to his personality.

Indeed, The Nation deemed Teachout’s run the “Most Valuable State Race” in the 2014 Progressive Honor Roll noting:

Yes, it’s great to win elections. But often the most important campaigns are those that fall short in the battle for votes but win the battle of ideas. Fordham law professor Zephyr Teachout did that when she mounted an audacious challenge to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, first for the nomination of the Working Families Party and then in the Democratic primary. Teachout campaigned against corruption—the focus of her excellent new book, Corruption in America: From Benjamin Franklin’s Snuff Box to Citizens United—and for campaign-finance reform. She also tackled the concerns that are neglected when money controls politics, such as fracking, high-stakes testing and educational reform, and the need for a “New York Is Home” Act to protect immigrant rights. Despite Cuomo’s attempts to knock her off the primary ballot, his refusal to debate and his free-spending incumbent’s campaign, Teachout secured a third of the vote and carried more than two dozen counties.That wake-up call for compromising Democrats was reinforced by the fall campaign of the Green Party’s Howie Hawkins. Cuomo got at least some of the message: by December, he moved to ban fracking. The first step in holding politicians to account is to challenge them. Primaries are healthy, especially in a Democratic Party where too many leading figures are prone to compromise and too many messages are muddled. Teachout added clarity to the competition, and she provided a model for merging activism with electoral politics. (italics added)

CD NY-19

One of two Democratic challengers for a seat that has alternated between Democrats and Republicans at the Congressional and Presidential level (it has also been ‘redistricted’ repeatedly, see Wiki), so that

Past electoral history and the balance of towns like Hudson and New Paltz with vast rural expanses suggest that voters in the district, shaped like a northward-pointing bloated horseshoe encircling Albany, are just as likely to elect a conservative Republican as a liberal Democrat (Capital New York, cited in Common Dreams).

Currently, Teachout

finds herself in the peculiar position of favorite against Columbia native son, farmer and Livingston town councilman William Yandik. Yandik is well respected and received the endorsement of the CCDC but has an uphill battle against Teachout’s name recognition and recent accomplishments…But this election, in a district with deeply conservative pockets, will not be easily won (link) (emphasis added).

Hence, two themes that have surfaced deserve some attention: 1) carpetbagging or ‘parachuting’ in; and 2) whether she is progressive.

Carpet bagging: Some have suggested Teachout moved from Brooklyn to Dutchess County precisely to run for office in the CD. The current Representative, Mr. Eldridge (D), was also labelled with this in 2013. As reported by the NYTimes:

on Monday, Republicans were already suggesting that Ms. Teachout was also a carpetbagger; shortly after Ms. Teachout opened her campaign, the National Republican Congressional Committee issued a statement calling her a “tax-happy Brooklyn resident,” whose candidacy will ensure that “this moderate Hudson Valley district will remain in Republican control.”

Indeed, the RNCC Weekly Rundown called her a “carpetbagging tax evader” with Chris Pack, the NRCC spokesman saying, “Voters in New York’s 19th District deserve better than a carpetbagger from Brooklyn moving to town to advocate for the Bernie Sanders agenda that will tank our economy”. Some of this echoes Cuomo’s attacks against her as well, as Peter Kauffmann admitted to sending protestors to Teachout events to chant “where are you from?” Alas, these charges appear to be working as the Democratic primary heats up.

Progressive or Rockefeller Republican?

A review of Teachout’s history and her stances on key issues (see zephyrteachoutforcongress.com and ballotpedia on the issues quiz) suggest she is progressive. Nevertheless, running in a hotly contested CD and after challenging an establishment insider means folks on the left and right will attempt to paint Teachout in particular ways. Regarding labels Teachout has said:

I have a strong Rockefeller Republican streak…I often call myself a populist. I’m drawn to the populist tradition. That means taking on big companies, and it also means a basic respect for people and a focus on decentralized power. And there are some decisions that should be made at the state level (see WaPo).

My real politics, where my family comes from, is that Rockefeller Republican tradition, with a strong, strong, strong independent streak…I’m willing to stand up to political insiders (see here).

“I’m a Franklin Roosevelt Democrat and a Teddy Roosevelt Republican,” she said in a recent interview. She admires Teddy Roosevelt’s antitrust beliefs, and believes that similar to him, today’s elected officials can fight the “too-big-to-fail” banks and the bloated broadband companies. (see Register-Star).

Whether Teachout can woo–or at least assuage the concerns–of the more conservative residents in this large CD by disarming the ‘tax happy’ talk with such imagery is yet to be seen.

Still, the narrative really is one of ““establishment centrist” vs “progressive populist””. And, in this regard, Teachout again presents a progressive picture: Some establishment endorsements include US Senators Gillibrand and Schumer, Ulster County Executive Michael Hein, County Comptroller Elliott Auerbach, and Kingston Mayor Steven Noble; Citizen Action of New York, Democracy for America, Progressive Action PAC/CPC; and Progressive Change Campaign Committee. Nevertheless, she endorsed and is endorsed by Senator Bernie Sanders and endorsed the Democracy Spring movement in April.

During the IQ2 debate, she committed to eliminating corporate subsidies and not being corrupted by money:

And, this was one of the stark differences between she and Yandik as was made clear in the Time Warner Cable News Democratic Primary Debate this week.

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