A quixotic run for New York governor by the pro-worker, anti-fracking, anti big bank law professor Zephyr Teachout and her running mate, the net neutrality activist Tim Wu has gotten enough traction to lead governor Andrew Cuomo to browbeat likely supporters of the challengers into line. (Read our interviews of Teachout and Wu)
Teachout and Wu got what looked like a lucky break from a Department of Justice investigation into Cuomo’s creation and sudden shuttering of the Moreland Commission, which had been tasked to look into corruption. Cuomo quickly turned the probe into a major controversy by trying to coach witnesses, which as Preet Bharara, the attorney for the Southern District tartly informed Cuomo, walked and quacked like obstruction of justice and witness tampering.
The New York Times has taken this candidacy seriously enough to call on Cuomo to debate Teachout (he didn’t, so Teachout debated an empty chair) and endorsed Wu over Cuomo’s lieutenant governor designee, Kathryn Hochul. But New Yorkers seem to regard corruption as business as usual in New York, so while the scandal has dinged the governor’s approval ratings, he is still expected to win the primary tomorrow handily.
But the unexpected defeat of Eric Cantor shows that primaries can be wild cards. Accordingly, Cuomo has roused himself. Hillary was enlisted to record a robocall to rouse Good Dems to turn out and vote for Cuomo and Hochul. The New York Post reported on how Cuomo reverted to his usual thuggery to stymie endorsements of the challengers (and notice how de Blasio took up the charge):
Gov. Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio used threats and intimidation in recent days to block prominent Democrats from backing leftist law professors Zephyr Teachout and her running mate, Tim Wu, in Tuesday’s primary…
The largely successful pressure has been especially intense to stop endorsements for Wu, who is given a real chance of defeating conservative-turned-“progressive” former upstate Rep. Kathy Hochul, Cuomo’s running mate for lieutenant governor, insiders said.
“Cuomo and de Blasio were pulling out all stops, making it clear that anyone who even considers endorsing Teachout or Wu will pay a big political price,” said a prominent Democratic activist.
“Cuomo especially is obsessed with Wu because he clearly thinks Wu has a chance to win, which would be a disaster for him,” the activist continued.
City Council members were told that pet projects would be endangered if they back either Teachout or Wu, said a source close to the council. “You wouldn’t believe how much we were intimidated and muscled,’’ said one.
Council members and state legislators were also warned that state-funded projects would be at risk if they publicly backed Teachout or Wu, several sources said.
Note how Wu is seen as a real threat because he’s a highly competent individual running for a largely powerless post. The lieutenant governor can use his office as a bully pulpit, particularly to embarrass the governor, and Cuomo has enough enemies that many relish the idea of denting him enough to prevent him from securing a national office.
But what about the conventional ground for dismissing Teachout, that she’s not experienced enough? This is the political version of Catch-22: to be seen as a viable candidate for a major post, you need to be seasoned. While that may sound plausible, the result is that the contenders depicted as legitimate are insiders, as in they’ve already made the compromises needed to be part of a corrupt system. And it is hardly unheard of for first-time candidates, such as Ronald Reagan, Arnold Schwartznegger, Rick Scott and Jesse Ventura, to target and win the governor’s office.
Perversely, the problem Teachout faces isn’t so much her track record as the fact that she has committed herself to such an ambitious reform agenda. She’s set herself a remarkably high set of objectives. But one of the problems with soi disant progressives is that they don’t like the hard work of governing. As Richard Kline wrote in a 2011 post, Progressively Losing:
….progressives are ill-equipped by objective and inclination both to succeed in bare-knuckle political strife. One could say unflatteringly that the goal of ‘progressives’ in activism is to raise their personal karma by standing up for what is right. “Sinners repent,” is the substance of their message, and their best dream would be to have those in the wrong do just that, to embrace progressive issues and implement them. More cynically, one wonders whether progressives would be entirely pleased if all of their reforms were implemented, leaving nothing to inveigh against.
Progressives are at their best educating, advocating, and validating those in need well apart from the fray. There are few cases that readily come to mind where progressives have implemented any contested policy on their own initiative without others of different goals involved. Somebody else has to carry the can for their water to get drawn.
Kline continued by arguing that progressives got their muscle from radicals, meaning out groups that had grievance-oriented demands, centered on personal safety and economic rather than social justice.
The fact that the Teachout/Wu campaign poses any kind of threat to Cuomo is an indicator that the middle class is downtrodden enough that incumbents have good reason to worry about voter rebellion. And as the 2010 Congressional midterms showed, the progressives fared well; it was the Vichy Dems who took big losses.
So time to send a strong message against corruption and in support of economic justice. If you are a Democrat in New York, cast a vote for real change with Teachout and Wu.