Teachout to run for 19th district, putting political spotlight on Catskills

Fordham University law professor Zephyr Teachout ended weeks of speculation on Monday, Jan. 25 by announcing her candidacy for outgoing Republican Congressman Chris Gibson’s 19th congressional district seat, which represents the Catskills and the Hudson Valley in New York.

Left: Zephyr Teachout. Photo by Digital Media, via Wikimedia Commons. 

Teachout’s announcement puts the Catskills region, formerly a gerrymandered political backwater before a judicial redistricting effort in 2012, at the center of New York State politics.

Chris Gibson has used the 19th district as a staging ground for a possible gubernatorial run in 2018. Teachout, a Democrat, and former New York State Assembly Minority Leader John Faso, who is running for the seat as a Republican, both likely hope to use the district as a springboard to loftier political goals.

Teachout, who unsuccessfully challenged incumbent New York Governor Andrew Cuomo in the Democratic primary in 2014, was urged to run in the Catskills by local Democrats, members of the Working Families Party and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee.

Teachout said that some of her strongest support in her 2014 primary bid against Cuomo came from jurisdictions in the 19th congressional district.

“I realized I had friends in all corners of the district,” said Teachout, who has been visiting activists and party officials over the past several weeks. 

The candidate said that she decided to launch her bid for Congress because "I have spent my career standing up to insiders, standing up to corruption."

Commenting that "agricultural and small businesses are very important to me," Teachout said that her job over the next nine months is to connect with voters in the Catskills and Hudson Valley on a local level.

Teachout, a resident of Dover Plains in Dutchess County, is the second Democrat candidate to enter the race, joining John Kehoe, also of Dover Plains. On the Republican side, former New York State Assembly Minority Leader John Faso, Milbrook businessman Andrew Heaney and Hamden businessman Robert Bishop are vying for their party's nomination.

“Wrote the book on corruption”

Born and raised on a family farm in Vermont, Teachout's journey to the 19th district has taken a decidedly academic route.

A graduate of Yale and Duke Universities, she has spent the majority of her adult life immersing herself in progressive causes. She supported the Occupy Wall Street movement and served as the first national director of the nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation, which advocates for government transparency.

An associate professor of law at Fordham University, Teachout has cast herself as a voice for open government. She was named the head of the anti-corruption campaign finance reform nonprofit Mayday PAC in July 2015. Additionally, she has authored “Corruption in America: From Benjamin Franklin's Snuff Box to Citizens United.” 

In the Progressive Change Campaign Committee’s official endorsement of Teachout, issued on Tuesday, Jan. 26, PCCC co-founder Stephanie Taylor said, "Zephyr Teachout is a law professor who literally wrote the book on corruption in American politics."

Faso, Heaney go on attack

Republican candidates John Faso and Andrew Heaney responded to Teachout’s entry into the race by issuing public statements disparaging her campaign on Monday afternoon.

Faso's campaign spokesman called Teachout ”a radical who takes her cues from the Occupy Wall Street movement in New York City," while Heaney described Teachout's worldview as a part of a "radical de Blasio-Sanders ideology."

When asked for her comment on Faso and Heaney's labeling of her as a radical candidate, Teachout laughed.

"There's nothing radical about being opposed to corruption,” she said.

She pointed to her opposition to the Common Core public education curriculum standards, a political stance that is shared by many Republicans, as proof.