A week from today, New York State voters will decide on the Democratic and Republican nominees for state office. Andrew Cuomo will win the Democratic primary for governor, and Rob Astorino will win the Republican. Cuomo will beat Astorino in the November general election. All this is quite predictable, and therefore rather boring. The only interesting thing about this New York election season is Cuomo’s primary opponent, Zephyr Teachout. (Yes, that’s really her name.) She doesn’t have a chance to win, but it would be a good thing for New York and for progressive politics if she and Tim Wu, her running mate for lieutenant governor, got a lot of votes.
Cuomo is one of those centrist Democrats who could as easily be a moderate Republican, if moderate Republicans still existed. Like that other partisan hybrid, ex-NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, he combines liberal stands on socio-cultural issues (marriage equality, gun control) with center-right economics. Popular on Wall Street, Cuomo is a devotee of trickle-down economics, though he would never use the term. (He prefers “anti-tax, pro-business” language.) He imposed large cuts in the state’s education budget even while refusing to extend a tax surcharge on the wealthy. His latest budget proposal calls for $2 billion in tax cuts over the next three years, with the benefits heavily skewed toward the most affluent. It features a sharp reduction in estate taxes. Cuomo is just about as conservative as a northeastern Democratic governor can be. He has made it a point to frustrate and embarrass New York City’s progressive mayor, Bill De Blasio.
Cuomo has ethics problems. As the New York Times editorial board summarized,
…Mr. Cuomo blocked the progress of the independent commission he set up to investigate corruption after the panel began to look into issues that may have reflected badly on him and his political supporters. As The Times reported in July, Mr. Cuomo’s closest aides pushed back every time the commission began looking at the governor’s own questionable practices, including a committee set up to support his agenda, which became Albany’s biggest lobbying spender and did not disclose its donors. Now a United States attorney is pursuing the questions the commission raised, including the ones the governor wanted dropped.
Teachout, a constitutional law professor at Fordham, is smart, thoughtful, sophisticated and solidly progressive. She embraces FDR liberalism and assails concentrations of economic power, which she sees as drivers of inequality. Joan Walsh has done a good portrait of Teachout on Salon.
Largely because of his ethics problems, but also because of his economic conservatism, the NY Times declined to endorse Cuomo for governor. They also declined to endorse Teachout, on the grounds that she doesn’t have the political experience to be governor. That is true enough, but it misses the point: Andrew Cuomo deserves a good kick in the butt, and a strong showing for Teachout would accomplish that.
And while you’re voting for Teachout, don’t forget to vote also for Tim Wu, who actually does have a chance to beat Cuomo’s running mate, Kathy Hochul. Hochul, a former member of Congress from upstate Erie County, might be even more conservative than the governor. She was one of just 17 House Democrats who voted to indict Eric Holder for contempt of Congress over “fast and furious,” one of the several pseudo-scandals that Congressional Republicans have sought to pin on the Obama administration. (Think Benghazi and IRS.) Wu, a Columbia law professor, actually did get the NY Times’ endorsement. A widely recognized scholar of media and technology industry law, Wu is the originator of the phrase “net neutrality.” Wu’s election would serve as a salutary, recurrent reminder to Cuomo that Democrats’ path to political success doesn’t have to go through Wall Street.