Longshot Primary Foe Aims for Rebuke of Cuomo


As Zephyr Teachout says, there wasn’t supposed to be a Democratic primary in Andrew Cuomo’s New York, where the powerful governor with national ambitions was expected to sweep to a second term.

Instead, Cuomo is facing a politically awkward challenge from a woman whose name is as improbable as her campaign.

Teachout, a Fordham University law professor, is far behind in money and remains largely unknown to most New Yorkers. Yet her quixotic tilt at one of the nation’s most powerful governors underscores Cuomo’s uneasy relationship with liberals — and highlights his reputation as a controlling leader who leaves nothing to chance.

Turnout for primaries is often low, maximizing the impact of grassroots supporters and reducing the impact from campaign advertisements. Teachout could deliver a strong liberal rebuke to Cuomo even if she only wins up to 20 or 25 percent of the vote Sept. 9, according to Maurice Carroll, assistant director of polling at the Quinnipiac University Poll.

“He’s going to win, but she’s going to embarrass him,” Carroll said.

That may explain why Cuomo’s supporters waged a dogged fight to knock Teachout off the ballot, subpoenaing her tax and employment records to challenge her New York residency before dropping the effort after two courts ruled in Teachout’s favor.

Teachout, 42, a liberal activist who worked on Vermont Gov. Howard Dean’s presidential campaign and moved to New York in 2009, was the only other contender for the Working Families Party nod. She won 40 percent of the vote and days later announced she would run as a Democrat.

The legal challenge to her candidacy was filed by two college students who are listed online as Cuomo campaign interns. It may have backfired since it gave the little-known Teachout a new wave of statewide media attention.

Cuomo has so far dodged the question of a debate, and his campaign says there are no plans to hold one before the primary. The governor seldom talks about his re-election bid.

With a $35 million campaign bank account and polls giving him a 2-to-1 lead over Republican Rob Astorino, Cuomo may be hoping to simply ignore Teachout. Public pollsters haven’t bothered to survey the race since Teachout isn’t well known.

Cuomo is widely believed to have presidential ambitions, and winning a second term by huge margins could help position him for a future run. Carroll said a primary squabble with a little-known candidate isn’t likely to upend that.

“This won’t make a bit of difference,” he said.