Suffolk Closeup: Teachout speaks out


The most refreshing candidate for New York governor in decades was on the East End last week.

Zephyr Teachout is challenging incumbent Andrew Cuomo in a primary this coming Tuesday to decide who will be the Democratic nominee for governor.

She is an expert on governmental corruption. Indeed, her book “Corruption in America” is soon to be published by Harvard University Press. And Ms. Teachout’s emphasis on investigating and exposing corruption isn’t simply academic. She was national director of Washington, D.C.-based Sunlight Foundation, a non-partisan organization working for “transparency and accountability” in federal, state and local governments with a focus on documenting how money is perverting democracy.

There can be no more important time in this state and nation for a specialist in corruption.

Ms. Teachout (an unusual name going back 350 years to her Dutch roots, she explained) is currently a professor of constitutional law at Fordham Law School.

She was in Sag Harbor last Sunday for a “meet-and-greet” at the Sag Harbor studio of artist Julie Keyes. It attracted people from all over Long Island. Steve McCormack, a teacher, came 50 miles from Miller Place and explained that he’s “active in Democratic affairs” but has become disgusted with “walking door-to-door for candidates who are in cahoots with big business.”

Ms. Teachout sat down for a 20-minute interview with me in which she blasted Mr. Cuomo for his abrupt shutdown of a Moreland commission he formed to investigate corruption in state government. Last month, in a front page story, the New York Times detailed how Mr. Cuomo dissolved the commission after it began investigating entities close to him.

And this despite Mr. Cuomo’s claim when he formed the commission that it would be “totally independent … Anything they want to look at they can look at — me, the lieutenant governor … any senator, any assemblyman.”

“It’s an outstanding display of hubris to create a commission to investigate corruption and shut it down after it did exactly that,” said Ms. Teachout. The “rule of law” was twisted “to not apply to Cuomo’s business associates.”

She was equally critical of Mr. Cuomo’s “interference” with another Moreland commission he set up to investigate the Long Island Power Authority. The governor “imposed a foregone conclusion” on this panel “pressuring it” to decimate LIPA and have a New Jersey-based utility, PSEG, become the main electric utility on Long Island.

Ms. Teachout said “Long Island should have been put first” by “the fixing of what was wrong” with the state-created LIPA and “not privatize” the utility system. Lost now is “accountability” and “the long-term costs of this privatization are not known.”

Moreover, she said she has a “very different energy vision” than Mr. Cuomo’s. She seeks to have the state get all of its power from renewable energy sources.

She declared that she is a strong opponent of nuclear power and the Indian Point nuclear plants just north of New York City “have to be closed. Nuclear power is unsafe.” (Mr. Cuomo is also for the closure of Indian Point. However, the Republican nominee for governor, Rob Astorino, is for keeping Indian Point open and for building new nuclear power plants in New York State.)

Ms. Teachout is against fracking — the drilling into shale for gas — which she called “a threat to the water supply.” She faulted Mr. Cuomo for not making a decision on whether fracking should be allowed in New York State while also, she said, “taking $1 million in political contributions from pro-fracking interests.”

She said she and her running mate, Tim Wu, a Columbia Law School professor and a leader in challenging monopolization of media, are “old-fashioned trust-busters.” There is “too much power concentrated in the hands of a few and it’s bad for the economy and bad for democracy.”

Former New York Governors Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt were trust-busters, she noted. “It’s a long American tradition.”

Their campaign, she said, is “gaining momentum every day.”

Among others at the event for Ms. Teachout was Julie Penny of Noyac who commented, “I’ve been massively disappointed in Cuomo. We need someone who will work for us.”

She added, “It’s too bad Cuomo refuses to debate Teachout on the issues that matter to us and have such repercussions over our lives.”