Matt Stoller: 5 Reasons for the Zephyr Teachout Phenomenon, and 5 Reasons Andrew Cuomo Is Still Governor

By Matt Stoller, who writes for Salon and has contributed to Politico, Alternet, Salon, The Nation and Reuters. You can reach him at stoller (at) or follow him on Twitter at @matthewstoller. Originally published at Medium

“New York’s a small town run by 1,000 decision-makers.” So says Hank Sheinkopf, a consultant in New York politics for more than 40 years and bouncer for the billionaire-fueled New York Democratic establishment. So how did Zephyr, who was not one of those decision-makers, have such an impact? I’ll try to answer that question and offer some observations her campaign and what it meant. My first stab at the question was back in July, in this Salon piece.

Here are some more thoughts, now that the primary is over. First, here are 5 reasons Cuomo won this primary (though he won it with a shockingly low percentage of the vote, roughly 20 points less than Spitzer got in his primary for Governor in 2006).

  1. Cuomo “won” because he spent more than $11 million on TV alone while Zephyr Teachout spent $500,000 on the whole campaign. Cuomo won for one reason — his opponent had no name ID, and he spent between $11M and $15M on this election. Money in politics is used to talk to voters through mail and TV. Without it, you are mute. Zephyr Teachout didn’t do one piece of mail, or a single TV ad. There was a lot of evidence that primary voters, when given a light persuasion message, flipped to Teachout. She got a big chunk of the vote without spending very much at all. But there was no money to deliver such a message. Given a bit more money, or a bit more time, the outcome would have been different. To put it another way, Cuomo paid roughly $48 for every vote he got, where Zephyr paid roughly $2.70 (UPDATE: Philip Bump has a more accurate count, and calculated that it’s $60.62 for Cuomo to $1.57 for Zephyr, though all the data isn’t in yet). That’s a very big differential, in terms of the power of the messaging. If Zephyr had had a bit more money, she could have easily won.
  2. The liberal establishment went for Cuomo. Aside from money, Cuomo had the machinery of elections on his side. The list of establishment supporters backing Cuomo is long. It includes 1199 SEIU and the Hotel and Motel Trades Council, two of the most powerful unions in New York. Hillary Clinton did a robocall for Cuomo, while helping very few other Democrats in 2014. So did Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federal of Teachers. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Senator Kirstin Gillibrand, Senator Chuck Schumer, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Emily’s List all endorsed the ticket, with women’s group Emily’s List endorsing Cuomo’s running mate Kathy Hochul while refusing to endorse Zephyr Teachout for Governor despite her gender and pro-choice stance. Most Mayors in New York, as well as the entire Congressional delegation, went for the ticket. The Working Families Party endorsed him. The Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver did. And so on.
  3. The Occupy bloc isn’t enough, but it matters. Zephyr’s base bloc isn’t enough to win a primary, but it is part of a potential coalition that could do so. It’s the Occupy voter bloc, perhaps what Howard Dean had from 2002–2004 but infused with an economic justice frame. It is the only organized voting group that is able to sit outside the political establishment. They were willing to back a neophyte female candidate with no money and no establishment support against the marriage equality guy with $35 million in the bank who balanced the state budget four years in a row. It’s not a complete coalition, but it is a piece of a broader coalition.
  4. Andrew Cuomo will be Governor, but his career is over. Cuomo will win in November. He will govern for another four years, or until he is indicted. But he will not hold another elected office, because he has proven himself a very good machine boss but a very bad candidate. The level of petty vindictiveness reflects a brilliant man who simply cannot help himself but indulge his desire for control. Interestingly, Zephyr won Albany County, and people there know him best.
  5. The New York establishment hates and fears Andrew Cuomo. Zephyr Teachout is a great candidate, and she ran an excellent campaign. But Cuomo had a lot of enemies, and her campaign gave them all a chance to vent. It was like a dam broke, and every anti-Cuomo sentiment poured through the wreckage. I saw this up close as a volunteer for Zephyr; a surprising number of people at her rallies had had close experiences with Cuomo, and hated him for his micro-managing style and general petty vindictiveness. I heard from former state employees who complained of his staffs’ screaming and stapler throwing, librarians angry that Cuomo was selling public libraries to be bulldozed for luxury condos, and even the representative of an ultra-conservative wealthy plutocrat who said his boss hated Cuomo because “he is a fucking liar.” But that said, while hating him, they went along with him. For instance, New York politician Ed Koch still wouldn’t forgive Cuomo for a campaign stunt from 1977: “During the ugly 1977 New York City mayoral primary battle between Koch and Mario Cuomo, Cuomo campaign signs appeared throughout Queens — Cuomo’s home turf — reading, “Vote for Cuomo, Not the Homo.” Cuomo’s son Andrew, then 19, worked alongside his father on the campaign.” That didn’t stop Koch from cutting Cuomo a check for $1000 in 2010. (Koch passed away in 2013). Now that Cuomo’s control of the party is in question, his ability to govern will be dramatically weakened. He will be Governor, but no longer King.

Then there’s the flip side of the coin. What was this Zephyr Teachout thing all about?

  1. Zephyr Teachout’s career is just beginning. Teachout is a star. The New York establishment ignored her at first, but was utterly charmed by her by the end of the campaign. She’s got a book coming out on political corruption, a good platform from Fordham Law School, a deep network of connections, a political base, and and the clear chops to be an excellent candidate at any level. Her campaign, led by the brilliant former WFP operative Mike Boland, suggests she has the ability to pull together an effective political operation. She is a star, if not a governor. That’s powerful. She needs a platform, but she will find one.
  2. This was a real debate of ideas. This was the most interesting election I’ve seen since 2006, when Ned Lamont challenged Joe Lieberman for the Senate seat. Lamont defeated Lieberman in the primary, but lost in the general election. That year, the Presidential candidates — Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, and Barack Obama — saw that the anti-Bush left that had emerged in the wake of the Iraq war to challenge the pro-war hawks was not dominant in the party, and resolved to crush it. They did. There has been such intra-party agreement for the past six years over policy that Paul Krugman and Matt Yglesias both pronounced the party devoid of real debate, except over some minor details (Vox’s headline was “7 reasons the Democratic coalition is more united than ever”). This election, in 2014, is the first signal that there’s real dissent within the party, over big stuff. While the core disagreements incorporate economic justice as well as national security, it’s not a coincidence that Zephyr Teachout was the internet director of Howard Dean’s campaign in 2003–2004.
  3. The Occupy bloc has emerged. Zephyr drew her strongest — but not only — support from white liberals from the ages of 30–45 years. This is the Occupy Wall Street demographic. It is teachers, librarians, fracktivists, techies, and publishers. It is also heavily networked and organized. Some Cuomo insiders were making fun of the fact that Teachout couldn’t draw big crowds, while Cuomo could. But this is because Cuomo’s machine organizes constituencies in union halls, whereas Teachout’s are on listservs and on Twitter. It’s just a different frame of reference, union organizers organize at union halls, fracktivists organize on listservs.
  4. Antitrust is an extremely potent issue. Zephyr Teachout consistently drew her biggest applause line with “It’s time for some good old fashioned trust-busting.” She made a point of saying that big cable is too big, and that Amazon is a threat to open markets. Zephyr often said she is an old school Democrat. What she meant is not just that she backs more funding for schools, but that she believes in a redesigned relationship between powerful private actors and the state similar to the one implemented by FDR. This is first and foremost about a strong antitrust agenda. Much of this can be traced to scholar Barry Lynn at the New America Foundation’s Open Markets Program, where Teachout was recently a fellow. An intellectual foundation rooted in a robust historical outlook has given Teachout the means to become a star, and this foundation rests on trust-busting in the private sphere and anti-corruption in the public sphere.
  5. Bill De Blasio is gunning for the Governorship, and then the Presidency. De Blasio played a key role in bringing down Zephyr, but also exposing what is different from his Clintonian progressive ideology and Zephyr’s intellectual tradition. De Blasio is not a throwback Democrat, he’s a slightly more left-wing version of Bill Clinton or Barack Obama. His policy choices, such as Pre-K, paid sick leave, but continued Muslim surveillance and stop and frisk as well as coordination with large banks and real estate interest, are classic New Democrat moves. He believes that Wall Street should distribute a bit more lucre to the working class, but this is different than the Zephyr Teachout school of breaking up the banks or reorganizing corporate power and the state. With this campaign, De Blasio has made himself essential to the Democratic party in New York. The Working Families Party is now his machine, and he is going to ride it as far as it can go. He believes, with some justification, that he can win back any disaffected progressives alienated during this campaign, while at the same time he can bring into his fold a lot of the Cuomo world that didn’t trust him when he runs for Governor in 2018. (UPDATE: Since I published this piece, I’ve heard that there is real grumbling about De Blasio in his old district — nickname is OTB, One Term Bill. That will have to wait for another time.)

I had a lot of fun with this campaign, and I hope you did too. At first I observed it from afar, but then I got involved on the ground. What a glorious ride. Cuomo is a fascinating and dark figure in American politics, and the New York political establishment is both hilariously parochial and immensely powerful. Thanks, Zephyr, for making this ride possible.

UPDATE: So some New York contacts read this piece and are giving me additional insight. One key part I didn’t, but should have mentioned, is the role of running mate Tim Wu and the New York tech community. The tech world helped finance the campaigns, and Wu played a bridge between that world and Zephyr’s world of anti-corruption activists. Wu is a serious and credible candidate. He helped propel the campaign when he got the New York Times endorsement for Lt. Governor (which Zephyr nearly, but did not, receive).

Micah Sifry and Andrew Rasiej of Personal Democracy Forum are organizers of New York tech politics. They wrote this broad letter to Cuomo in 2012, and a lot of important venture capitalists signed it. It was a request for public financing of campaigns. Many of those people backed Teachout/Wu, as well as Larry Lessig’s Mayday PAC. If the tech community starts to put serious money into anti-corruption politics, that would be interesting. We’re already seeing engagement on public financing and net neutrality, but traditionally VCs have also been interested in antitrust because their startups are crushed by monopolists. There are of course cross-pressures here.

Micah wrote: What I find most intriguing about this is the way some tech VCs and entrepreneurs really seem to understand their success as tied to (or born up from) the open Internet and how we may link that to open politics or open democracy (defined as a system where the little guy can enter and compete on an open playing field, rather than one dominated by political and economic monopolists and duopolists). In other words, Comcast and Verizon are to the 21st century economy what the Democrats and the Republicans are to the political system.

The second important observation from a few folks is that Zephyr crushed it upstate. She won over 20 counties outside of New York City, and this is largely due to her stance on fracking, as well as the really bad rural economy that results from neoliberal urban focused financial politics. Cuomo has tried to assuage this with lots of tax credits and development deals, but, according to Hunter College professor Ken Sherrill, “it seems like all that vaunted economic development hasn’t reached the average voter.” That’s true. It’s pretty much common sense — you don’t do tech startups in cow country, you make dairy profitable. Also, Zephyr, though portrayed as a big city professor from New York, grew up on a farm in rural Vermont. Upstate farmers are actually her people. Here are counties she won (or nearly won). There’s a great map of the regional breakdown at the New York Times site.

• Putnam- 53.5% • Dutchess- 57.5% • Ulster- 70.0% • Sullivan- 67.6% • Delaware- 63.3% • Greene- 62.1% • Columbia- 77.9% • Rensselaer- 63.4% • Albany- 61.9% • Schoharie- 71.7% • Washington- 63.8% • Saratoga- 67.3% • Fulton- 54.3% • Montgomery- 54.5% • Otsego- 72.7% • Chenango- 49.9% • Madison- 46.8% • Cortland- 60.6% • Tompkins- 70.9% • Tioga- 49.7% • Schuyler- 60.7% • Yates- 61.5% • Ontario- 50.8% • Seneca- 56.3% • Wayne- 49.1% • Warren- 56.7% • Hamilton- 51.7% • Essex- 48.6% • Clinton- 49.4% • St Lawrence- 54.6%

And the third observation is that the Progressive Change Campaign Committee really mattered. They did a GOTV campaign and talked to a lot of voters, which was Zephyr’s main weakness.

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  1. Jeremy Grimm

    It’s remarkable and heartening to see a fellow from Barry Lynn’s Open Markets Foundation combine with a Techie as a force in progressive politics. Beneficial capitalism requires open markets enabled by government regulation of greed and conglomeration. Capitalism, understood as regulated small enterprise is not incompatible with socialism. I value the freedom of such capitalism. I recall, Howard Zinn suggested in one of his speeches that the Soviet Union gave communism a bad name. In my opinion, today’s United States gives capitalism a bad name. Almost as much as I miss good schools, caring doctors, functioning government, friendly cops, well-built roads … I miss the variety and quality of the small stores and local businesses, and their owners who cared. I miss the excitement of genuine innovation I feel once characterized our industries and research before great wealth and large corporations smothered them.

    I hope Matt Stoller correctly sees Teachout and Wu as a new force in politics and part of a larger and growing progressive movement.

  2. upstater

    Teachout was a breath of fresh air.

    But don’t forget that the Green Party has a candidate, Howie Hawkins.

    As Yves has said, the Demo-crap-ic party is a roach motel for progressives. De Blasio is a perfect example.

    1. Jim Haygood

      ‘Comcast and Verizon are to the 21st century economy what the Democrats and the Republicans are to the political system.’

      Nice analogy. Too bad Depublicrats aren’t as unpopular as the cable/telco companies.

  3. BrooklynMelinda

    No way BdB goes more than one term. His continued endorsement of Bratton has brought him WAAY down in anyone that voted for him before.

    1. Nathanael

      deBlasio basically won on an anti-stop-and-frisk platform. Reversing that and supporting the unindicted felon Bratton basically blew up all of his support. At this point a Republican could win if he ran on an anti-Bratton, anti-NYPD-corruption platform.

  4. A. Nonny Moose

    The vote for Teachout was simply an anti-Cuomo vote. Zephyr Teachout is a inexperienced college professor with a ridiculous name and she appeals to the same types of people who loved Wavy Gravy in the hippy era (which is over, by the way). If, by some bizarre circumstance, Teachout and Wu ended up in office they would’ve been eaten alive by the political establishment. You don’t like Cuomo because he isn’t “nice” enough for your tender sensibilities? “Nice” does not govern effectively anywhere, particularly in New York. Stoller’s article is just sour grapes because his candidate didn’t win.

    1. Phil Perspective

      Zephyr Teachout is a inexperienced college professor with a ridiculous name and she appeals to the same types of people who loved Wavy Gravy in the hippy era (which is over, by the way).

      You do know what these kind of arguments are called, right? You do realize BdB isn’t his birth name, right? Attacking someone over there name is stupid. It’s too bad you aren’t smarter than that.

    2. mjshep

      she appeals to the same types of people who loved Wavy Gravy in the hippy era

      Hey, I knew Hugh Romney (Wavy Gravy). He was at one time a professional clown, which gives you some perspective. He was, and is, a very kind, gentle, intelligent, loving and funny man who would never hurt a soul and had an important message for his time. We could use more like him.

  5. James Levy

    Teachout would have been a better candidate in a different state. Unlike the Beltway hub of American oligarchy, which spreads its strength across two states and the District, the plutocrats and media barons of NY are more concentrated and coherent and they want a governor who understands that NYS is run by three people–the governor and the party chiefs in the Senate and Assembly–and the role of governor is that of broker and deal-maker, not policy wonk or visionary; it’s built into the state’s corrupt constitutional order. Mario Cuomo was a decent man but not a particularly effective governor because he wanted to play the role of philosopher king in a job well suited to an empty-headed hack like Pataki who had honed his skills as a backroom operator in local politics. The ugly nature of the job of NYS governor makes it a lousy launching pad for higher office because to perform well you have to get your hands dirty 24/7.

    1. Nathanael

      The state’s corrupt constitutional order is not acceptable to the NY population and it’s going to be overthrown. At this point, it will be overthrown sooner rather than later. It basically collapsed back in 2008 and it’s been maintained through desperate shenanigans since then; it can’t be kept up under the pressures of demographic change.

      This is going to be one of the first states where the Republican/Democratic duopoly dies, at which point the entire corrupt structure will fall apart very, very quickly.

  6. Banger

    I don’t see it Matt. I don’t see Teachout as going anywhere. The idea that the left can win in NY state (or anywhere else) doesn’t make sense. Look, why do you think that that our elected reps at all levels constantly pursue policies that go counter to the public interest? How is it that even if candidates run to the left once they get into office they change their ways pretty quickly? Cuomo is a typical politician who wins and he wins by forming coalitions with power groups that are able to deliver. The Occupy demographic of idealists delivers nothing and has delivered nothing.

    Power comes from strong communities and a high degree of solidarity that lasts for more than a few months. The Labor and Civil Rights movements did bring their communities, for a time, into the power arrangements because they had tight communities—these people did not just share ideas–they shared getting hit on the head by police by making one hell of a collective noise and refusing to be kicked to the curb the way the contemporary left movements are so easily kicked to the curb because of their refusal to understand realpolitik. Cuomo and Rahm Emanuel have nothing but contempt for the weak response of the American left that is incapable of inflicting political pain on the ruling elites. When you make them hurt they listen–if you don’t they ignore you like Obama completely dismissed the left as soon as he got into office. Why did he do that? Because he is bad? No I don’t believe he’s bad–he’s just a realist and knows that the left has no bite and there is nothing I see in Teachout that seems like a bite.

    The campaign was amusing but look at Cuomo–he gave her the finger and said he will do whatever he wants because he has real power. The politicians in NY supported him because they live in the real world of power and they, like Cuomo, play in the same game. The left never even gets in the game. Now, of course, they will turn around and vote for Cuomo.

    I see not future for Teachout if she maintains her current attitude–Di Blasio, I can see going somewhere–he plays the game fairly well. I don’t like it but that’s the way it is. Now, why do I say this–let’s assume Teachout can get across really well and people take a liking to her and she threatens to be elected to some high office–what then? You think the powers that be are just going to allow that to happen? No–they’ll make life very unpleasant for her and her supporters and will smear her and get their friends in the media to attack her on some trivial issue as they always do to anyone threatening their privileges and power. This is the way it is–we have to face it and then we can change it. We need to create solidarity and organization where a sizable number of people are willing to risk all for a larger cause.

    1. amateur socialist

      “The Occupy demographic of idealists delivers nothing and has delivered nothing.” vs. “We need… a sizable number of people… willing to risk all for a larger cause.” Cognitive dissonance?

      There’s no hippie puncher like the closest one I guess.

      1. ambrit

        Isn’t it obvious? The Occupy demographic is not large enough by itself to drive any real democracy based movement. They need to start making alliances with centrist and near right groups. (The entire debate about what constitutes a real Left I’ll leave for another day.)
        One basic mistake the Occupy demographic seems to be making is this: Elites assume they can change things by themselves because they are purer and smarter and better than the ‘average.’ Wrong. They need the ‘average’ for numbers and power. We all know of situations where obviously fraudulent ‘reasons’ were found or fabricated to fool the mass of the citizens into supporting various objectives. This doesn’t mean that the ‘average’ person is outright stupid or evil. It just means that, with sufficiently skillful manipulation, people can be fooled.
        “We need to create solidarity and organization where a sizable number of people are willing to risk all for a larger cause.” One demographic alone is not enough. Sizable should mean, Everyone.

        1. amateur socialist

          Tiananmen square, Arab Spring, Occupy, Ferguson… All started as tiny protest movements. All crushed one way or another by overwhelming state power to marginalize, imprison, torture and kill. All had elements that might have created mass appeal among this broader demographic you speak of. Which is why they were handled that way. That’s obvious.

          “So we starve all the teachers – and recruit more marines – how come we don’t even know what that means? – It’s Obvious” – Joe Jackson, Obvious Song

        2. jrs

          I’m not sure what right you see making alliances with? Some libertarian types on some issues – sure. But what I see of the right is people who assume a black man being shot MUST BE self defense by the cops (Ferguson) oh and the tanks in the streets that’s no biggie either because they’re dealing with “rioting thugs”. Good luck on the alliances with fascists.

      2. Matt Stoller

        There’s been plenty of good organizing in New York, like a network of activists that have halted fracking (so far). Zephyr got the votes of a tight-knit bloc of voters, who organize themselves effectively and work in communities and have a sense of solidarity based on economics. They rejected De Blasio (by the way Banger if you’re going to pretend to know what you’re talking about it helps to spell names correctly), even though he attempted to speak for them. This is a base to build on. There are significant organizing challenges, but the premises behind Banger’s comment are largely false (as well as internally inconsistent).

        1. Banger

          I don’t think the schoolmarmish dig does you credit. However I don’t know a lot about NY state politics but i’ve spent a fair amount of time in NYC and parts of upstate. Internally inconsistent? Ok, to make it simple, politics is about muscle and the ability to make your enemies hurt if they cross you and, just as important, to reward your friends. I have not seen it work that much differently anywhere. I’m not totally dismissing your arguments but I don’t see and you have not provided a clear path to power. I have accidentally been In contact with people who have power and they don’t play fair. I want to see how progressives expect to actually win something, again, road map. It has to be more than sermons and cries of “it’s not fair.” I wish politics was a matter of debating ideas and the best method to make government work well for everyone–but that’s not how it is.

          During the seventies, before some nasty false flag events destroyed the CP in Italy culminating in the Moro assassination, the CP had a great deal of popularity in local governments particularly in smaller cities. They were, in the main, honest (for Italians) and they provided the people with tangible services particularly community centers even when they weren’t in power–the party itself gave the workers real things and earned their loyalty. If the left wants to earn votes it must attempt to build something and earn respect and support outside the usual suspects. Cuomo won because he gives those union guys and gals something tangible.

          1. Matt Stoller

            . However I don’t know a lot about NY state politics but i’ve spent a fair amount of time in NYC and parts of upstate.

            And then you proceed to lecture on New York state politics.

            1. Banger

              So then, there aren’t lessons to be learned from say my knowledge of Washington politics or RI politics or Virginia politics or my home state of Illinois? I was speaking generally about politics. Isn’t it possible that there might be some slight point that I’m making that is useful? Does everything have to totally black and white? Is there no possibility of dialogue and dialectic?

                1. Banger

                  Really, that I have nothing to say about politics? How is that a response–it’s an ad hominem attack that addressed none of the issues I brought up. Part of dialectic is to counter an argument with a counter argument so we can, theoretically, come to agreement. The idea here is that “I’m right and you’re wrong” that doesn’t cut it.

          2. Lambert Strether

            Stoller writes on the fracktivists, who have done extraordinarily well, given the power of the oil industry. I’m familiar with that style of networking from (partially) successful work here on landfills, where playbook of the bad guys and the class structure of the good guys is similar.

            So, when you write “politics is about muscle” you proffer a truism, but when presented with actual examples of muscle you refuse to look at them. Speaking of doing no credit.

      3. jrs

        Maybe there “go underground” philosophy after they were evicted is the only feasible one anyway. Maybe fighting the power directly isn’t even possible?

    2. diptherio

      The Occupy demographic of idealists delivers nothing and has delivered nothing.

      Except for making inequality an acceptable topic of conversation in “serious” society…except for delivering relief and aid to those most in need after Hurricane Sandy (Occupy Sandy) and the Oklahoma tornadoes (Operation OK Relief)…except for the doings of Occupy our Homes and Occupy the SEC.

      IIRC, it was five years in between the Montgomery bus boycotts and the lunch-counter sit-ins. Things take time, friend, and just because the results of something aren’t apparent to you immediately, does not prove that they have been ineffective.

      As for the likelihood of a single candidate actually changing our corrupt system of governance, however, I agree with you: ain’t gonna happen. When will we ever figure this out? We’ve seen what happens to the Kuciniches and McKinneys–they either get pushed out in a hurry, or simply shut-out of any real power by the other incumbents. Trying to fix a corrupt system by throwing one or two or three good people into it is not good strategy. Sadly, it’s about the best we seem to be able to manage on the electoral level.

      Imho, though, the Teachout campaign did do one thing, which is prove that you don’t need a bunch of money to put up a real fight. Not being a corrupt incumbent is a priceless campaign asset, that the other side can’t purchase no matter how hard they try. We need to focus on that and leverage it.

      My suggested strategy is something along the following lines: create a new party (the Skunk Party, the No-Money Party, the Self-Organizing Party) whose values are simple: don’t take corporate money or large donations & party platform created through democratic process (using Loomio, or some similar system to decide on policy stances). Make the selling point that it is the very antithesis of our current political parties.

      Then we need to make a concerted effort to 1) run as many candidates as possible; a mayor here and a representative there isn’t enough, we need candidates for every seat…and with so many unemployed, highly competent people out there, it shouldn’t be all that hard to find folks; and 2) focus on getting out the cynical non-voters–my canvassing would go something like “we’re sick of these corrupt f#@kers running the show and we want to throw a spanner in their works–voting for us is a protest vote against big-money politics, a vote against the current one-party system–it’s an easy and fun way to give the finger to “the man”.” Given our dismal voter turnout, someone who figures out how to mobilize non-voters need not even compete for votes from voting Dems or Repubs. (Also, we’d need to do some non-standard GOTV actions like community celebrations followed by mass busing of people to polling stations on election day–creative use of mail-in ballots where they exist (voting parties?), etc.).

      Them’s my ideas.

      1. Banger

        As I replied to Stoller’s comment you need to give people something tangible not just ideas and promises. The American electorate needs to see real things not sermons and appeals to idealism.

        1. EmilianoZ

          Surely Occupy Sandy must have given hurricane victims something besides moral supports. IIRC they appealed for cleaning supplies and other stuff. That’s concrete help. And Occupy our Homes could have won some people their houses back. That would be super tangible.

          1. Lambert Strether


            To put this another way, whatever Occupy was doing was tangible enough to somenbody. No 17-city paramilitary crackdown orchestrated by Obama’s DHS otherwise, right?

            (My argument continues to be that what Tahrir Square, the indignados, the pre-Occupy Capitol occupations, Occupy proper, and the Carre Rouge movement in Quence all gave, at the very least, was the joy of self-organization. Granted, that is not a concrete material benefit like, say, a debt jubilee or a decent retirement. But it’s important, and apparently avaiable nowhere else. So in that sense, “tangible.”

    3. Carla

      I agree with you, Banger. Teachout thinks what we have is a corruption problem. Wrong. What we have is a Democracy problem.

      But New York voters now have a real choice to make in Nov, since Howie Hawkins is running on the Green Party ticket. If you live in NY state, why on earth waste your vote on Cuomo?

      And incidentally, is it too much to hope that Tim Wu will get onboard with Hawkins’ campaign? Yeah, it probably is, but I can dream…

    4. diptherio

      Well, the first attempt got eaten so I’ll just respond with:

      1. Inequality as an acceptable topic for polite conversation
      2. Occupy Sandy (disaster relief for poor and neglected neighborhoods)
      3. Operation OK Relief (ditto)
      4. Occupy our Homes (foreclosure defense)
      5. Occupy the SEC (policy analysis)

      And don’t forget that it was five years in between the Montgomery bus boycott and the NC lunch-counter sit-ins. Things take time, friend. Patience.

    5. pepsi

      I know this is hard to imagine, but there was a time when left candidates won big elections. This is a possible outcome of left candidates running for election.

      Acting as if the neoliberals in power are undefeatable is silly, their grip on power is the most tenuous it’s ever been. It will of course take an organized mass movement, which is exactly what occupy is and was.

      If you ask an occupy person for 5 ideas to improve the country, they can probably give you 5 good ideas. If you ask an establishment democrat, you can learn how we need to embrace innovation by making teachers unions illegal, improving competitiveness by privatizing social security, something about enhancing security cooperation by giving Israel an invulnerable autonomous robotic soldier codenamed Golden Man, and passing the vital to America’s Interests Trans Pacific Trade Partnership.

      1. Carla

        Hope you can see your way clear to working with the Greens, pepsi. It would be great if Howie Hawkins had a respectable showing in the Nov. election.

    6. Nathanael

      You don’t know the communities you’re talking about.

      Anti-fracking is big. Really big. Anti-fracking is not just civil disobedience big, it’s civil war big. If Cuomo actually allows fracking, all hell will break loose.

      The tech community is rich. They’re also powerful. They’re not afraid to use that power either; they’re ruthless. They don’t have a lot of demands, but they have a few, and they get them or they destroy all who oppose them.

      The fossils in the Cuomo faction? Don’t seem to even understand the powerbases they’re screwing with. Cuomo really has ticked off everyone. It’s actually pretty dumb; it wouldn’t have been difficult to run an effective Boss Tweed operation in this state; but he didn’t.

  7. Ed

    Again I agree with Banger. If we know anything about how the 1% operates by now, we know that the last place they will give up is New York City. Alot of progressives like to live and work there for some reason (I grew up in NYC and think its gotten overpriced and souless, though not needing a car is great), but its pretty much where progessive movements go to die.

    When reading the piece, I thought it was funny that a bid deal was made over Cuomo outspending Teachout by as much as $15 million and still losing a bunch of upstate counties. In his three races for Mayor, Michael Bloomberg would outspend his opponent by $75 to $100 million, spending presidential campaign amounts of money to become mayor of a city with a population ot eight million, and win narrowly two out of three of the times, but apparently this wasn’t a big deal.

    Also, unless she returns to Vermont and run there, Teachout doesn’t have much of a political future. The structure of politics in New York state is very centralized and congested. She could maybe run for federal office, but congressional (as are state legislative) districts in New York are unusually gerrymandered for the benefit of incumbents. Otherwise she has a choice between pretty powerless sinecure positions (the state and city legislatures, the borough presidents, and the citywide officials other than mayor), or the mayor and governor. Other than returning to Vermont, her best move would be to run for mayor against the Clintonite De Blasio.

    1. Nathanael

      The NY state legislature gerrymandering is pretty much guaranteed to be broken in 2020. The current status quo is not sustainable, with the Republican Party hanging on to a bare majority of seats in the State Senate purely through corruption, malapportionment and gerrymandering; people will not tolerate it through the next redistricting cycle. The Congressional gerrymandering already ended in 2010 when the legislature couldn’t make up its mind.

      Zephyr has a political future if she wants one, make no mistake.

  8. marcum

    What did WFP hope to achieve backing Cuomo? All the talk back in early June was how Teachout was a joke. Yesterday seems to disprove this. I don’t get it.

  9. lakewoebegoner

    “The liberal establishment went for Cuomo.”

    one of the Democratic Machine/Cuomo’s most reliable power bases is w/urban immigrants/minorities, etc (as it’s been since the days of Boss Tweed, in no small part due to political pork to the local Assemblyman). Just look at the map where Teachout turnout was strongest. Areas where grassroots efforts and one-on-on-style politics (ie Upstate), Teachout blow away Cuomo. While as the above noted, areas where politics is largely mass media-orientated, Cuomo won.

    The left (largely college-educated, middle-class, white) needs to do some major grassroots ground work to encourage voters (minorities, poor whites, non-college grads, etc) of all stripes to alter the perception that Democratic Party = reliable friend of the working/middle-class.

    1. Banger

      Excellent points. Fact is that “progressives” are really, mostly, not what they claim to be. They are intellectually and socially more open and knowledgeable but they are usually relatively well-off and like things just as they are in fact. Progressives (Alex Cockburn like to say “pwogwessives”) have opinions about a lot of things but whether some teen gets killed in Ferguson by rabid cops is just not that important in the vast scheme of things–like flying to Europe this spring or whatever. As long as there is some semblance of order in society these people are content–they can turn on Comedy Central and laugh at the idiots who watch Fox and that’s fairly fulfilling. I can’t say I blame them either–why get all upset about stuff you actually can’t do anything about?

      1. Jill


        I agree and disagree with you on this. I know the pwogwessives of whom you speak. They have sold out, do not have a class conscience (something that wealthy people can have and poor people may not have at all)–the George Clooneyies who invite Obama to dinner and complain how Bush is a torturer and war monger.

        That said, I do not agree there is nothing we can do about this situation. We can help each other out in the short term and work for a long term change in this rotten system. I don’t underestimate going up against a powerful group of psychopaths. They are dangerous, even to their own. (Think how many people in the financial industry have decided to kill themselves by defenestration in the past few months!) They showed only a small portion of their enormous fangs during occupy. Yes, I am scared. But I will stand up to them and so will other people. I believe you will stand up to them as well. As long as there are people who will stand up, there is a chance.

        1. Banger

          I don’t think I said there’s nothing we can do. We need to organize tight communities that “do” for each other. I’ve outlined this before in some detail. People take my admonition to face reality as saying we should give up–nope–continue the struggle but don’t use the same methods that obviously don’t work.

          1. jrs

            My experience of society is that it’s too splintered for tight communities mostly, granted there are some exceptions, ethnic enclaves and so on. And yes I know there are lot of people putting in work to try to create community but they are a drop of water in the ocean of the larger society, unless you think a few bohemians can change the world. Well who knows, maybe if it spread :).

      2. Left in Wisconsin

        I think there a lots of “progressives” who are as Banger describes but lots of others who, while maybe not class conscious in their bones, are disappointed and frustrated with how the world is and really would like to do something to help. To me the bigger problem is funding: the modern “left” operates on foundation funding which is ultimately corporate funding. They are plenty left if there is money in it – gay rights, gun control, even climate change to a certain extent. But they are fake left when it comes to taking on capital in any way, because they know that the foundations don’t like it and they don’t want to do anything to piss off a potential funder. This is why the weakness of the unions is such a problem – they are the only reliable source of anti-capitalist funding.

    2. Ulysses

      Tompkins County over 70%! Woo hoo!! Very important point about grassroots, retail politics. Even in Staten Island, NYC’s most conservative borough, volunteers had enormous success in getting their ideas across to voters they contacted. The problem was that the campaign was way too small and under-funded to connect with enough likely voters.

      The most telling fact revealed by this primary race is that the establishment is no longer able to completely control the political narrative. In an ugly and openly contentious fashion the WFP rank-and-file was bullied and cajoled into backing Cuomo by DeBlasio et al., and this shows the fundamentally undemocratic nature of this nominally “progressive” organization. Yet equally huge amounts of pressure was put on the state AFL-CIO, and the NYS United Teachers to endorse Cuomo, and both of these groups declined to do so.

      I fervently hope that the compradors and corporate friendly cronies that now infest so much of organized labor’s “leadership,” are eventually bounced out of power by the rank-and-file. The tremendous courage that my Teamster brothers and sisters showed– in facing down very heavy pressure in taking back my beloved local 251 in RI from the mobsters eating lobsters– gives me some reason for optimism.

      1. Lambert Strether

        Yep. And man, do I hate that “pwogressives” locution. It’s infantilizing. When I want to insult them, I say ‘career “progressives”‘ which not only has the merit of being true, it doesn’t partake in strategic hate management, and points at least to some sort of solution to dealing with them….

    3. Nathanael

      “one of the Democratic Machine/Cuomo’s most reliable power bases is w/urban immigrants/minorities, etc (as it’s been since the days of Boss Tweed, in no small part due to political pork to the local Assemblyman). Just look at the map where Teachout turnout was strongest. Areas where grassroots efforts and one-on-on-style politics (ie Upstate), Teachout blow away Cuomo. While as the above noted, areas where politics is largely mass media-orientated, Cuomo won.”

      All true. The NYPD routine abuse of pretty much every minority and immigrant group, with Democratic Machine backing, really should crack that perception pretty quickly, though. Boss Tweed made sure “his” immigrants got treated well by the police.

  10. lakewoebegoner

    now comes the hard part….can teachout supporters muster the courage to vote green party?

    yes, lose the battle by having the gop win, but a step to winning the war…halting the constant rightward drift of the democrats

    1. Lambert Strether

      Wrong frame. The frame is: “Can the Greens function like a real party and peel off Democrats?” I like Greens like Ursula Rozum a lot, and I like what I’ve heard of Howie Hawkins, but if Hawkins is going to create a Jesse Ventura moment for the Greens — and he could, starting from 7% — then he’s going to have to run a campaign that will do that. I really think the way lies open for the Greens, because the legacy parties are so very, very bad, but plenty of movements and parties miss their time and are, rightly, forgotten. Kerensky did pretty well, for a while, after all….

      1. Nathanael

        I don’t think Hawkins is likely to do it this year (he could — I just don’t think he has the marketing skills of Jesse V.) Someone is going to do it fairly soon in NY, though. Ursula Rozum is a leading indicator.

  11. Kim Kaufman

    I still think Teachout is more of an Obama Dem than a Credico Dem. De Blasio is turning out to be that guy also – an Obama Dem. Will she even stick to being a politician going forward?

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Stoller called out Obama early, after his 2004 Democratic convention speech, and was nearly booted from the convention over it. Obama was clearly being groomed. The orchestrated Dem party pushback against Teachout says she is a real outsider. Honestly, your comment is uninformed, knee-jerk cynicism.

      1. different clue

        I haven’t done any research but my memory is that Stoller supported Obama and approved of his hip young groovies during the crucial 2008 primary campaign. Am I wrong about that?

        1. hunkerdown

          Because changing one’s mind is immoral, and adherence to a narrative to the death even in the face of facts is always a better course?

        2. Yves Smith Post author

          Stoller only gave tepid support for Obama in 2008, and basically said as little as he could on the topic. He was working to get Alan Grayson elected then, and was not in a position to oppose party leadership. But if you read his 2005 and 2006 work on Obama, you’ll see he was skeptical.

          1. Lambert Strether

            I agree; I was there. I chewed a very large number of ankles in 2008, Stoller’s included, but Stoller was never high on my list of people to beat up because his profile wasn’t that high.

    2. Nathanael

      Teachout is very definitively a Howard Dean type candidate. Make of that what you will: as far as I’m concerned, Dean is the real deal (as opposed to the phony liars we get so often) but he may not be your deal (while very solidly left-wing on all macroeconomics and equal-rights issues, he was fiscally cautious, supports gun ownership, etc.)

  12. buenaventura

    “Cuomo is a fascinating and dark figure in American politics”

    Anyone have article suggestions on what are the best critiques of Cuomo, etc?

  13. citizendave

    Watching from Wisconsin, I picked up on Zephyr Teachout from things Yves wrote about her. And I am grateful because, like Matt, I haven’t had that much fun watching a candidate for any office for a long time.

    Our Democratic candidate for governor is Mary Burke, who has pulled even in recent polls against Governor He Who Must Not Be Named. I have found myself wishing that Zephyr could visit Wisconsin to help Mary’s campaign. The rural farm constituency here must be very similar to upstate New York, as well as to the rural Vermont of Zephyr’s childhood. It’s not that Mary Burke isn’t doing well on her own. It’s more of a Dream Team idea.

  14. different clue

    I assume there is far too little time for Teachout to set up and run on a Rebel Democrat Party or Ticket. For those who will not vote Green because of past experiences with Green “people”, would they still be willing to write in Teachout, or vote for something-anything other than Cuomo if Teachout and the Teachoutists established revenge and “extermination” as being the Prime Directives against the Cuomists in the coming election?

  15. lakewoebegoner

    “The level of petty vindictiveness reflects a brilliant man who simply cannot help himself but indulge his desire for control.”

    Or a spoiled brat whose career is thanks to his last name and good ol’ fashioned nepotism.

  16. Mattski

    Remind me very much of Spain’s Podemos, which just received the second-biggest number of votes in that country’s europarliament elections. Since Spain arguably started Occupy, perhaps not surprising–point being that you have this kind of emerging constellation of forces and possibilities in many countries. Add disenchanted and underemployed academics to the list of those militating for such changes. . . Good stuff.

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