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New York Candidates Zephyr Teachout, Randy Credico, Tim Wu on Challenging Cuomo & Money in Politics

StorySeptember 04, 2014
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New York Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo is being challenged in his own party’s upcoming primary. We host a discussion with two candidates facing off on the party’s ballot. We are joined by Fordham Law professor Zephyr Teachout and her running mate for lieutenant governor, Tim Wu, who coined the concept of net neutrality. We are also joined political activist Randy Credico, also running for governor. While most of the Democratic establishment has backed the Cuomo ticket, the Teachout-Wu campaign has received some notable endorsements, including the Public Employees Federation, the state’s second-largest union of government workers, as well as the state chapters of the National Organization of Women and the Sierra Club. Credico, who has previously run for New York City mayor and U.S. Senate, is running on a platform calling for economic justice and the reform of the state’s drug laws. So far, Cuomo and his lieutenant governor candidate Kathy Hochul have declined all invitations to debate their challengers. We invited them to join us today for this discussion, but they declined.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We turn now to politics here in New York state, where Andrew Cuomo, one of the nation’s most well-known Democratic governors, is facing a challenge from within his own party as he seeks re-election. Voters head to the polls next Tuesday for the state’s Democratic primary. Cuomo’s quest for re-election has taken some unexpected turns as he faces two primary challengers, Fordham Law professor Zephyr Teachout and comedian and activist Randy Credico. Last week, The New York Times declined to endorse any of the candidates in the primary. The paper criticized Cuomo in part because of his decision to disband a commission he had created to root out corruption in state politics. The paper praised Teachout’s push to fight corruption and reform the state’s campaign finance system.

Meanwhile, the Times editorial page did endorse Teachout’s running mate, Tim Wu, for lieutenant governor over former U.S. Congresswoman Kathy Hochul, who is running with Cuomo. Wu is a Columbia Law professor, best known for coming up with the open Internet principle of “net neutrality.” If he were to win, Wu would become the first Asian American elected to a statewide office in New York state.

AMY GOODMAN: While most of the Democratic establishment has backed the Cuomo ticket, the Teachout-Wu campaign has received some notable endorsements, including the Public Employees Federation, the state’s second-largest union of government workers, as well as the state chapters of the National Organization of Women and the Sierra Club. Randy Credico, who has previously run for New York City mayor and the U.S. Senate, is running on a platform calling for economic justice and the reform of the state’s drug laws.

So far, Governor Cuomo and former Congressmember Hochul have declined all invitations to debate their challengers. We invited them to join us today, but they declined. But we are joined by the other Democrats on Tuesday’s ballot: Zephyr Teachout and her running mate, Tim Wu, as well as Randy Credico.

And we welcome you all to Democracy Now!


AMY GOODMAN: Zephyr Teachout, why are you running? Why do you feel there needs to be a change in New York?

ZEPHYR TEACHOUT: Andrew Cuomo, despite calling himself a Democrat, has governed as a Republican. His whole policy and everything he’s pushed has been tax breaks, tax giveaways for the wealthy, and it’s really hurting New York state. New York is now the most unequal state of all the states, with the most segregated schools. So I am running for the old-fashioned reason that I know I would be a better governor, that my values align with the values of New Yorkers. And I’d actually fight for all New Yorkers.

AMY GOODMAN: You just came from the fast-food workers’ protest earlier this morning?

ZEPHYR TEACHOUT: Yes, yes. Now, I joined and I’m happy to stand with the fast-food workers who are protesting for a fair wage and a union. In New York City, you need $15 an hour just to make a living. And I talked to some of the people who were there protesting, asking where they found their courage. I talked to a woman who had walked off the job seven times, striking KFC. And she said, “Well, it’s my family.” And when she said her family, what she meant is the other people that she works with and the other people who are in the same situation. And she said, “For myself, I could do it maybe once, but for my family, and all of us, I find the courage.”

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, you were originally recruited by the Working Families Party as a potential gubernatorial candidate, and then—the very party, the independent party, the more left-wing party in New York politics. And then, at their own convention, they essentially cut a deal with the governor. Among the things that he promised to do would be to support a state—a raise in the state minimum wage.


JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Could you talk about that whole situation and your decision to go ahead and run anyway?

ZEPHYR TEACHOUT: Yeah, sure. I was recruited around March 15th. And when they recruited me, I explained that I’m also a Democrat and also wanted to run in the Democratic primary. So when Andrew Cuomo heard about my candidacy in the Working Families Party primary, he did something that is remarkable for a Democrat only because it’s Andrew Cuomo, which is he finally agreed to support a Democratic Senate. I think people really need to understand how much he is not a Democrat. He really has worked behind the scenes to have a Republican Senate. We have a really Democratic state here. But I decided to continue to run because, despite Andrew Cuomo’s promises, he didn’t say anything about fracking. He has made no commitment to ban fracking. He has made no commitment to fully fund our schools. And our schools are in a crisis. And he made no commitment to actually turn our tax system rightside up. Right now it’s the wealthiest New Yorkers pay less as a percentage of their income than the middle 20 percent.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Randy Credico, I wanted to ask you—you have a long history with Andrew Cuomo. Years back, you joined with him in the fight to do away with the Rockefeller drug laws, and now you’ve decided not only to challenge him, but also to vie for the nomination with Zephyr Teachout. Talk about your decision to enter the race.

RANDY CREDICO: Well, I was in the race long before Zephyr was in. I got into it in January because Andrew Cuomo is a reactionary Democrat. But the Democratic Party is a reactionary party. He’s a Lieberman Democrat, Cuomo. Zephyr is an Obama-Clinton kind of Democrat. I am a Amy Goodman Democrat or Bill Kunstler Democrat or Jeremy Scahill Democrat. I represent the far left of the Democratic Party.

Andrew Cuomo, I did work with him back in 2003 against the Rockefeller drug laws. In fact, you wrote a column about it. Back then, he called for a complete elimination of the laws. And we got some change. However, now that he’s been in office as governor, he hasn’t mentioned it. He hasn’t granted one clemency—not one clemency since he’s been in. That’s what really prompted me to run against him. I mean, Southern governors, like Orval Faubus and George Wallace and Lester Maddox and all the rest, all gave clemency. He hasn’t given one clemency or pardon the four years that he’s been there, even though he had all these cracks in the changes of the Rockefeller drug laws.

And there are a number of other reasons. We need to reform the criminal justice system—I mean, not just reform it, really start all over again. I was recently arrested here for filming the police and spent 24 hours in Bronx Central Booking, just for filming the police. I want to tell you something. I’ve been in jail in Nicaragua. I’ve been in jail in Honduras. I’ve never seen conditions like the conditions that we have in that particular jail that I was in. But it’s all over the state. We have 55,000 people in prison in the state.

AMY GOODMAN: Compare how New York, Randy, compares to the rest of the country when it comes to drug laws.

RANDY CREDICO: Well, it’s still very bad. You can still get 12 years in prison for the attempted sale of a $5 bag of cocaine, for attempted sale or for steering. You know, you talk—this great episode that you had prior to this, on the death penalty in North Carolina. You can actually get off with DNA, if you’re convicted of rape or of murder. You can’t on drug charges. There are thousands of people who are framed, who will say, “OK, I’m guilty,” because they don’t want to spend a year in Rikers awaiting trial. Thousands. But you can’t get off on DNA. You just can’t get off. So—and that’s across the country. There are thousands and thousands of people in jail who shouldn’t be there. We have 55,000. When Attica went up in smoke in 1971, which the anniversary is coming up, you know, we had 10,000 people in jail. Now we have 55,000 people in jail, almost exclusively people of color. That’s why I’m really running, is to represent them. If I could get all their families to vote for me, I would win next Tuesday.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Tim Wu, I wanted to ask you—you’ve gotten some surprise endorsements from not only The New York Times, the New York Observer, and your ticket has been endorsed not only by the Public Employees Federation, but also, I think, the Buffalo teachers’ union, as well. Could you talk about what you would hope to do for lieutenant governor, which is essentially a job that no one really knew about—

TIM WU: Right, right.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: —until Eliot Spitzer was forced to resign, and David Paterson, the lieutenant governor, took over as governor.

TIM WU: Yeah. Well, I’m running, generally, because I feel there’s a battle going on for the heart and soul of the Democratic Party right now. It’s beginning right now between people who are more serious about the problem of inequality in our country, people who are less serious about that problem. Lieutenant governor position in New York, I think, has been a position of wasted potential. It’s a constitutional position. And I think it could be used as a position of public advocacy, where I would serve as an independent voice in state government and a critic of some of the things that go on. We have a problem with checks and balances in state government, and we need to have it addressed. And one of the ways is to reinvent the role of lieutenant governor, and that’s why I’ve been running. The New York Times, the Observer, other groups have endorsed my vision, and I’m very proud of that.

AMY GOODMAN: You are known as an Internet activist. You really originated the whole concept of net neutrality. On September 10th, there’s going to be what’s known as, what, an “Internet slowdown.” Activists are organizing around the country and the world. You might go to their website, and the spinning wheel of death will be there—

TIM WU: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: —showing what it will be like if the—basically, if net neutrality is done away with. Explain what it is and why your issue around net neutrality weighs into your desire to be lieutenant governor of New York.

TIM WU: Yeah, sure. You know, the reason a million people took the time to write in comments to the federal government about net neutrality is because they believe that equality in our times is threatened, and they see the Internet, the open Internet, which has long been the bastion of equal speech, where, you know, an obscure blogger has a similar voice to a wealthy newspaper—and they say, “We want the Internet open. We believe in a society that is more equal.” In some ways, I think the passion for net neutrality right now is really reflective of a deeper concern with widening inequality in this country. The Internet slowdown is designed to dramatize what it would be like to live on—or, to have an Internet where the rich get faster speeds, the slow get slower. It’s like divided sidewalks or something. It feels so wrong, that people are getting fired up about it.

AMY GOODMAN: You’re also challenging the Comcast-Time Warner merger?

TIM WU: I am. I think the states should take an active—federal government and the states should take an active role in blocking a merger which is very bad for Americans, very bad for the entire country. Cable rates, the prices we pay for cable, are unregulated, generally, and have gone so high, they’re threatening the day-to-day life of lower-income and middle-income people. They’ve become this enormous thing. They’re rising many, many times the price of inflation. And they’re just in a position to extort payments. We need to stop this merger and start asking, why are we letting these monopolies just charge us these outrageous prices and threaten the Internet, open Internet? And, you know, it’s a serious problem, and I think it should be stopped.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Zephyr Teachout, I’d like to ask you about the whole issue of public corruption. When Andrew Cuomo ran for governor the first time, he said he was going to clean up Albany. He established a commission, the Moreland Commission, that was supposed to look into corruption. And then he disbanded the commission, and now there’s a federal investigation of whether his office or people around him had some kind of a role in trying to thwart some of the investigations of the Moreland Commission. Could you talk about the importance of this particular issue of Cuomo’s track record on this?

ZEPHYR TEACHOUT: His track record is terrible. And he broke his core promise. His core campaign promise was to clean up Albany, to push for publicly funded elections, which we all know we need to do, because if we don’t get at the root issue of who is funding campaigns, it’s hard to get at all the other issues. He promised to push for a Republican—for a Democratic Senate by vetoing incumbent protection gerrymandered districts. He promised to get rid of a loophole that allows corporations in New York can give directly to candidates. And instead of all of that, we have this real scandal in New York, because he created an anti-corruption commission, saying it can search anywhere, go anywhere, and the minute it started getting close to his friends, his business associates, he shut it down. And now there’s new news, evidence that his top aide was saying what subpoenas they should be issuing and what subpoenas they weren’t. This is a very serious violation of public trust. And the reason it matters is because the big money real estate and the big banks and the business associates of Andrew Cuomo are getting special favors. They are getting the tax giveaways. And meanwhile, New Yorkers are really suffering. You know, the wage gap is growing. So many people are food-insecure. This is New York state, which has a deep commitment to being egalitarian, to being open, to public education. So the reason I care about corruption is because of how it affects people’s lives. I mean, this is an old boy network in Albany.

AMY GOODMAN: How does what’s happening and the issue of corruption in New York compare to the country? You have a book coming out called Corruption in America: From Benjamin Franklin’s Snuff Box to Citizens United.

ZEPHYR TEACHOUT: Well, I think it’s a terrible example of what’s happening. I mean, certainly it’s gotten worse since 2010 nationally because of Citizens United. But there’s a deep cynicism that we have to overcome. And I think people are actually seeing that you still have the power of the vote, you can still kick out people like Andrew Cuomo, but the outside money has a very insidious effect, and it’s why it’s so urgent to change the way we fund elections.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Randy, I would think that on many of these issues, you and Zephyr Teachout would agree, but you’re running against her, as well as against Cuomo. Could you talk about the differences that you see between you?

RANDY CREDICO: There’s a lot of differences, a lot of differences that we have. Like I said, she’s a mainstream Democrat. When this is over, if I lose on Tuesday, I’m supporting Howie Hawkins in the Green Party. She hasn’t ruled out supporting Andrew Cuomo, in spite of his corruption, which I don’t think is such a big thing, by the way. I think the biggest problem in this state we should focus on is the economy. There’s all this stuff, and I think it’s a Chuck Schumer hit job on Andrew Cuomo. That’s his guy there, the U.S. attorney. The same guy who put Jeremy Hammond and Lynne Stewart in jail is the guy that she’s rooting for. I’m not rooting for that guy.

So, what I’m rooting for is that we change this economy. My economic adviser, Richard Wolff, has laid out a blueprint, that I’m following, which is to tax Wall Street, the 1 percent Tobin sales tax; a progressive real estate tax; cutting out 421-a, which gives big breaks to all the sports teams in the city, if they give—provide some affordable housing—and they never do; and to tax stocks and bonds, intangible assets, along with the tangible assets, like cars and homes.

So, we have—there are a lot of differences here. She won’t talk about Israel. I will—I have condemned Israel for their occupation of Gaza. Andrew Cuomo went to Israel, visited the caves, but didn’t visit the graves and Gaza. I will say it. I mean, it’s sudden death to talk about Israel. It really is, in New York politics. But I stand on principle on that. She hasn’t spoken out. And you have to talk about your position on the occupation of Gaza.

AMY GOODMAN: Zephyr Teachout, your position on this issue?

ZEPHYR TEACHOUT: You know, I actually think we agree on a lot of different issues, but I have stayed neutral. As governor, I will be representing all of New York. And I’ve certainly talked to people and feel great compassion for what’s happening on both sides of the conflict. And I will be a governor of Jews and Muslims in New York. But I’m not running for president, and I’m not going to be making foreign policy decisions.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Tim Wu, in terms of your opponent, what would you delineate? Kathy Hochul is actually most known for opposition, when she was a congressperson, to driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants and has a pretty conservative record in Congress, yet Governor Cuomo has chosen her this time around as his running mate.

TIM WU: Yeah, sure. You know, Governor Cuomo had a wide range of choices for who he could have chose to be his running mate, the lieutenant governor candidate. And somehow he found a bank lobbyist for the job, maybe on the idea that banks are underrepresented in the state Capitol, which I don’t think is true. He found a bank lobbyist with one of the most conservative voting records that a Democrat has had in Congress. She voted to drill the Arctic Refuge, Wildlife Refuge. She voted multiple times to repeal parts of Obamacare. She voted multiple times to gut the Clean Air Act. She has done things which, in my mind, are—you know, I believe Democrats can have differences of opinion, but she has gone against the main tenets of the Democratic Party. She even joined—there was this dramatic incident where the House Republicans were on one of these witch hunts, where they were—you may know, the Fast and Furious—citing Eric Holder for criminal contempt. The House Democrats got up and left the House, physically left the House for that vote. Kathy Hochul, Cuomo’s choice for lieutenant governor, stayed with Speaker Boehner, voted to hold, for the first time in history, the attorney general, Eric Holder, for—cite him for criminal contempt. And so, she has shown over and over again that she is far too conservative, and I think disqualifying for the state, this Democratic Party.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: But yet, it was just yesterday that the progressive new mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio, and the founder—co-founder of the Progressive Caucus, Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, all lined up to support her.

TIM WU: Yeah. With respect Mayor de Blasio, we agree on most—in fact, de Blasio and I agree on almost everything. Today in Politico magazine, we were named together as “the new new left,” along with Zephyr Teachout. And then, yesterday he made this tremendous error, this mistake of endorsing Kathy Hochul. I think they don’t agree on any issues. And it was, to my mind—she has been trying to misrepresent herself as a progressive Democrat now. I think he’s become an accomplice to her misrepresentation. I think he’s made a terrible mistake, and he’ll regret it.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I wish they were there to—here to represent themselves. Andrew Cuomo and Kathy Hochul were invited to be a part of this debate. I want to thank you all for being with us. Zephyr Teachout, candidate for New York governor on the Democratic ballot. Tim Wu is her running mate for lieutenant governor. Randy Credico is also a candidate for New York governor on the Democratic ballot. And the election, the primary, is Tuesday.

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