By Marc Jampole
New York State could serve as a model of how progressives can move the right-of-Eisenhower Democratic Party back towards the left. Andrew Cuomo, New York’s version of Barack Obama, is running for reelection as governor of the Empire State. But first there’s the little matter of the September 9 primary in which Cuomo faces Zephyr Teachout, a very progressive professor of law at Fordham University.
Cuomo has essentially run the state of New York by looking rightward. He put a cap on property taxes and wants to lower taxes for businesses. He blocked New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio’s attempt to raise taxes on the wealthy to fund pre-schools, preferring to take money from the existing state budget, which means other programs will do without. Cuomo is an ardent supporter of charter schools, a conservative initiative originated to bust teachers’ unions and has proven to underperform and undercut funding for public schools. And like President Obama, Cuomo is too fast to make deals with Republicans that continue the disastrous economic policies of the past 30+ years.
Let’s not forget about the whiff of corruption now emanating from the Cuomo body politic. Cuomo empanelled a state commission to investigate corruption in government and then dismantled it when it started turning over the rocks of his administration. In the best case scenario, Cuomo is exercising too much power in an effort to subvert democracy. The worst case would involve a cover-up of the kind of unethical and often illegal crony capitalism that seems to plague Republican governors these days.
Cuomo does support gay marriage and tends to speak and vote progressive on most social issues, but so do virtually every Democrat and a growing number of Republicans nowadays. He did pass one of the toughest gun control laws in the country after the Newtown mass murders, for which he should be applauded.
Teachout has no chance of beating Cuomo in the primary, but every vote she gets should turn Cuomo’s head a little bit to the left. If Teachout could get more than 45% of the vote, it would send a strong message to Cuomo to shift leftward on economic issues.
Which is exactly what Cuomo doesn’t want to hear and doesn’t want to do. That’s why the Governor sued to keep Teachout off the ballot and then appealed when he lost. Even though he knows the odds are overwhelmingly in his favor, he does not want to have to listen to progressives. It would upset the corporate bankers who back him and who might up the ante if he decides to run for president of the United States.
The worst that can happen by voting for Teachout is that she wins, which will be very good for New York State and the nation. The Republican Rob Astorino, a former Catholic radio personality, is far too right-wing for New York State. While it’s probable that conservatives would pour tens of millions of dollars into a campaign against the relatively unknown Teachout, the Democrats also have a ton of money for whoever the candidate for governor of New York happens to be. I’m confident any Democrat will beat Rob Astorino in New York State, especially if turnout is high. And it stands to reason that more Democrats would come out to vote for a face fresh than they would for the incumbent expected to steamroll Astorino. In other words, if Teachout won the primary, she would also win the election.
What we have then is a win-win situation for progressives. By voting for Teachout in the Democratic primary, New York voters can send a message to Andrew Cuomo—and every Democrat considering a run for the presidency.