“I feel great,” Zephyr Teachout said, actually seeming to mean it. “It’s not fun to have anybody staring you down, and trying to knock you off your game. But all this has done is proved that I am a New Yorker.”
It was Monday morning, a few hours before Teachout, the Democratic longshot candidate challenging Governor Andrew Cuomo in the gubernatorial primary, would find out if the Cuomo’s effort to have her knocked off the ballot had been successful. In late July, two college students affiliated with the Cuomo campaign had filed legal challenges to Teachout’s candidacy, arguing she hadn’t lived in New York the requisite five years required to run. After a two-day trial in Brooklyn Supreme Court, Judge Edgar G. Walker was going to issue his decision at 2 p.m. In a greasy spoon diner near her campaign headquarters, working her way through a fruit smoothie and a plate of eggs over easy, Teachout was showing no signs of strain.
Cuomo’s attorney, former state senator Martin E. Connor, argued during the trial that while Teachout had moved here in 2009 to teach law at Fordham University, she’d spent most of her time out of state. In her time living here, she hasn’t owned property, moving between a series of apartment sublets. She keeps her car in her parents’ barn in rural Vermont.
“These are normal New York stories,” Teachout said at the diner. “Living in walk-ups where the fridge doesn’t work, having student debt, needing to save money, using public transit. Not all of us were born in the governor’s mansion.” (That’s a dig at Cuomo, who, you might remember, also had a New York governor for a father.)
Besides, Teachout added, “They never had a theory about where else I had lived that wouldn’t have been refuted with one phone call. I came from a very small town. They could’ve called the general store and they would have told them I don’t live there.”
In his ruling, Judge Walker agreed, writing, “Based upon the evidence adduced at trial, the court finds that commencing in or about June 2009, to the present date, notwithstanding weekend trips, summer vacations and brief sojourns teaching courses in other states, Ms. Teachout has continuously maintaned a domicile and residence in New York state, and was physically present here with the intent to remain for a time.”
The New York Times editorial board also commented on the decision today, writing that the legal challenge, and the fact that his staff immediately said they would appeal Walker’s decision, is “political bullying,” adding, “[T]he governor should back off and engage with Ms. Teachout as a serious candidate. Doing otherwise suggests he is more nervous about winning a second term than he would like to appear.”
“The suit itself struck me as an argument about what it is to be a New Yorker,” Teachout told the Voice. “I am one, deeply, in my life and in my experiences, in a way that Andrew Cuomo isn’t,” from his privileged position growing up in a powerful political family.
She refused to entertain any questions about what she’d do if she didn’t beat Cuomo in the primary election. “I’m completely focused on the primary,” she said. Her next impossible quest: persuading Cuomo to debate her. “I think it will be increasingly hard for him to refuse.”
Teachout also issued a triumphant statement after the ruling was released. It reads, in full:
“Today we beat the Governor and his old boys club in court. His two attempts to knock me off the ballot have failed — first by challenging my petition signatures, and second by challenging my residency. We won Rounds 1 and 2. Now it’s time for Round 3: a debate. New York Democrats deserve a debate between Andrew Cuomo and myself about the issues that real New Yorkers care about: schools, fracking, corruption and building a fair and strong economy.
“There wasn’t supposed to be a primary in Andrew Cuomo’s New York. Game on.”