Zephyr Teachout Debated an Empty Chair on NY1


There was a debate in the governor’s race scheduled last night, but, as expected, only one candidate showed up. Zephyr Teachout, who’s challenging Governor Andrew Cuomo in the Democratic primary on September 9, has repeatedly asked Cuomo to debate her. The response, she’s said, has been “total silence.” New York 1 got the same answer when Inside City Hall host Errol Louis asked the governor to participate in a debate. So last night, Teachout went on NY1 and, rather cheerily, argued with an absent Cuomo, whom she likened at one point to Ronald Reagan.

– See also: The Outsider: Zephyr Teachout Will Never Be Governor, So Why Has She Got Andrew Cuomo Worried?

With substantial leads in the polls and absolutely towering leads in fundraising, Cuomo’s camp has clearly decided he can safely ignore Teachout. They’ve stuck with that policy for weeks; speaking to reporters yesterday, eight days before the primary, the governor said, “The campaign season hasn’t really started yet.” In another press scrum, shown on NY1 last night, he said, wryly, “I’ve been in many debates that I think were a disservice to democracy. So anyone who says debates are always a service to democracy hasn’t watched all the debates I’ve been in.”

Last night, Teachout told Louis that she’d run into Cuomo at Sunday’s West Indian Day parade, and even shaken his hand. But when she asked the governor whether he was planning to show up at the debate, he didn’t respond, she said.

“In some ways it’s a metaphor for what’s happening,” she told Louis. “He has ended up being silent on so many key issues, which is one of the reasons I wanted a debate. Silent on what really happened with the Moreland Commission.”

A few moments later she added, tartly, “You gotta worry when your governor’s taking the Fifth on a corruption investigation.”

Teachout ended up spending the better part of 20 minutes attacking Cuomo and outlining her own vision for New York: banning fracking, funding public education, connecting upstate and the city via better transportation systems, reforming the tax code to make wealthy New Yorkers pay more, and opposing any further expansion of casinos in the state. She also got in that Reagan jab.

“Governor Andrew Cuomo has really governed like a Republican,” she told Louis. “He’s fought for bank tax repeal. He’s fought for lowering the corporate tax rate.” His language, she added, “is so similar to Ronald Reagan. It’s so similar to Rob Astorino,” his Republican challenger.

Teachout didn’t want to say whether, as governor, she would have traveled to Israel to express political solidarity, as a flotilla of New York politicians, including Cuomo, recently did. “My focus is very much on the gubernatorial race and what the governor has power over,” she said. “I’m not running for president.”

But in a meeting with Jewish leaders yesterday, as reported by Capital New York, Cuomo called support for Israel “a New York issue,” indirectly criticizing Teachout for not supporting the country’s leaders.

“I think any New Yorker who doesn’t understand that Israel’s fight is our fight is living not in the state of New York, but in the state of denial,” he said, according to Capital.

If we take all these subtle jabs Cuomo is throwing and line them up next to Teachout’s appearance from last night, it’s almost like an actual debate. And that, apparently, is as good as we’re going to get.

Embedding is disabled, but you can watch the full Teachout interview here.