The Democratic gubernatorial primary candidate who challenged New York Governor Andrew Cuomo in 2014 announced Monday she is running for Congress.
Zephyr Teachout calls herself an Independent Democrat.
“This district is full of independent-minded people, whether they’re registered as Democrats or Republicans or not registered with either party,” says Teachout. “And I have shown, really throughout my whole career, that I’m willing to stand up and be independent and stand up against powerful interests, and I can do that in Washington as well.”
Teachout, seeking the 19th district held by retiring Republican Chris Gibson, says she was surprised to find herself considering a congressional run.
“I certainly didn’t expect to be here,” says Teachout. “Mike Hein was going to run, or I thought Mike Hein was going to run. I thought he would have been a great candidate.”
Ulster County Executive Mike Hein said in mid-December that we would not run, despite the urging of all the County Democratic chairs in the district that stretches across eleven counties. Teachout says she is running for the following reason.
“And so I’m running to give people a voice back who’ve been shut out, people whose voices have been drowned out by big corporations, by big lobbyists,” Teachout says. “And I have a long history of speaking out and standing up.”
Teachout, who continues to teach at Fordham Law School, performed well against Cuomo in the counties that make up the 19th congressional district. Republican John Faso, another former gubernatorial candidate who is running for the same seat, points out that turnout in that Democratic primary was very low. Faso, a former state assemblyman, like Gibson resides in Kinderhook in Columbia County.
“I have a record of experience in this district. I’ve lived here 32 years. I’ve lived and worked in the district. To be a representative, I think you need to know something about the area you seek to represent,” says Faso. “Ms. Teachout has been airlifted into the district by the Democratic bosses. She only last week registered to vote in the district and doesn’t even own any property or pay any property taxes in this district, so how can she possibly think that she should be representing the people of upstate New York. She has a district she could run for and it’s in Brooklyn.”
Teachout says she now lives full-time in Dover Plains in Dutchess County and no longer has an apartment in Brooklyn. She says she began renting in Dover Plains prior to considering a congressional run. Residency likely will be a central point of contention in the race, as it was between Gibson and Democrat Sean Eldridge in 2014, with opponents labeling Eldridge a carpetbagger. Teachout expects the residency argument.
“Most of my adult life I’ve lived in small towns in the country. And I’m from a rural area that’s just two hours northeast of the district,” says Teachout. “So I sort of came up during the dairy crisis and the farm crisis, and my neighbors are dairy farmers.”
She says agricultural issues have always surrounded her and praises Gibson’s work in this area. But Teachout says she differs from Gibson in many other ways. Meanwhile, when asked how he differs from Gibson, Faso replies:
“He’s got a much shorter haircut than I do,” says Faso.
Faso says he has been friends with Gibson for 30 years and they share similar views on many issues. Republican Andrew Heaney, a small business owner from Millbrook and the first to announce a run for the 19th, says he welcomes Teachout to the race. He expects to engage in a battle of ideas with Teachout. However, Heaney says there is a similarity.
“I think the one thing though that I definitely agree with Zephyr on her statement is the culture of corruption that exists in Albany and exists in Washington. I think that’s the reason people have begun to lose faith in the American system and in the American dream,” says Heaney. “And I just, I think that the culture of insiders and lobbyists is something she’s been opposed to and that’s something that we have in common.”
Heaney has pledged to a three-term limit. Teachout says she supports term limits, which is a change of heart for her, but has not decided on a number.
“Term limits and public financing of elections are both important features of a true anti-corruption platform,” Teachout says.
Faso says when he ran for governor in 2006 against Eliot Spitzer, he proposed a two-term limit for statewide office. As for Congress:
“I think the speaker and the majority leader and minority leader should be term limited, I don’t think don’t think rank-and-file individual members, they’ve got to run for office every two years and, to me, that’s that is the term limit on that,” Faso says.
Schoharie Republican Assemblyman Pete Lopez halted his campaign earlier this month citing an illness in his family. Delaware County farmer Bob Bishop is another Republican candidate while, on the Democratic side, Livingston Town Councilman and farmer Will Yandik is running.