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Zephyr Teachout Emerges To Challenge NY Gov. Cuomo from the Left

Progressive challenger says New York needs 'economy and democracy that works for everyone, not just the wealthy and well-connected'

Zephyr Teachout looks as the most likeliest candidate to capture the endorsement of progressive support of New York's Working Families Party with a direct challenge to Gov. Cuomo. (Credit:

With launch of a new website and a short statement that she is running for governor because "New Yorkers need an economy and democracy that works for everyone, not just the wealthy and well-connected," law school professor and progressive activist Zephyr Teachout has emerged from the Left to challenge the re-election campaign of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the state's current Democratic governor.

The news comes a day before the state's Working Families Party holds its annual convention and though it remains unclear if Teachout is the independent progressive party's official nominee, her new website carries a clever hybrid tagline: "Zephyr Teachout: Working Party Democrat for Governor."

Speculation has been active for weeks about whether or not the WFP would endorse Cuomo or run a challenger against him. As the New York Times reports on Friday:

For weeks now, [Cuomo] has been working behind the scenes to soothe misgivings by the leadership of a small but influential political party made up of labor unions and liberal activists who believe his policies have veered too far to the right.

Late on Thursday, a co-chairwoman of that group, the Working Families Party, said Mr. Cuomo’s efforts were not likely to be successful.

“Unless there is a significant new development in the next 24 hours, I don’t expect the state committee to endorse the governor,” said the co-chairwoman, Karen Scharff, who as executive director of the liberal advocacy group Citizen Action of New York wields considerable influence in the party.

According to The Nation's John Nichols:

The WFP has not yet committed to back a Teachout run. But the party's leadership will debate the prospect this weekend.

A powerful force in the politics of New York City and the state, the WFP backed Cuomo in 2010—giving its nomination to the Democratic candidate, as is allowed under New York's fusion rules for combining the votes of candidates on various ballot lines. But this year, party activists have wrestled with the question of continuing to support a governor who often veers to the center on economic and environmental issues.


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For weeks now, there has been talk of running an alternative to Cuomo, with names such as Diane Ravitch, a former US Assistant Secretary of Education who has emerged as an outspoken champion of public education, surfacing as prospects. (Ravitch isn't running, but she remains critical of Cuomo.)

A number of key labor leaders and top elected officials with close ties to the WFP, including New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, have backed Cuomo but have reportedly urged him to make concessions to the WFP in hopes of obtaining its ballot line this year. The governor has signaled a willingness to move on some issues, but the frustration runs deep on the WFP state committee, which will meet Saturday to consider how to approach the governor's race.

For those not familiar with Teachout's work, Nick Powell, writing for the New York-focused City & State, put together this helpful primer on the candidate, including six key things to know about the new candidate.  Powell writes:

Compared to education historian and advocate Diane Ravitch, whose name was also floated this week, Teachout certainly has a lower political profile. But the focus throughout her career--public campaign finance and political corruption, among others--happens to be issues that are at the forefront of the political discourse in New York City and state.

Writing for, Andrew Prokop adds:

Teachout was the director of internet organizing for Howard Dean's 2004 presidential campaign, and a former national director for the Sunlight Foundation. She has long been active on money in politics issues. [...] Though it's extremely unlikely that Teachout will win, if New York liberals end up viewing her as a plausible candidate, she could draw significant support from Cuomo's left — and that would make a future presidential bid by Cuomo a much tougher sell. For more on how Cuomo got to this point, check out my article, "Governor 1 Percent."

With little official word from either Teachout herself or the Working Families Party, individuals were taking to Twitter to respond to her candidancy:

Final note: For an interesting and in-depth look at the Working Families Party in New York, read this recent piece by Ted Fertik at Jacobin.


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