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“A Petty Tyrant with Too Much Power”: Former Cuomo Rival Zephyr Teachout Responds to Resignation

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Law professor Zephyr Teachout, who challenged Cuomo for the New York Democratic nomination for governor in 2014, describes Cuomo as “extraordinarily vengeful” and applauds the bravery of the women who spoke up about his behavior. “He never hesitated to use the power of the state, state resources, to serve his own ends,” says Teachout.

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

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, I’d also like to bring into the conversation Zephyr Teachout, professor of law at Fordham University. You were a candidate for governor in 2014 against Andrew Cuomo. And I’m wondering, one, your reaction to what’s happened in the last few weeks, and also to the governor’s resignation, and also how the governor dealt with you in your campaign.

ZEPHYR TEACHOUT: Yeah. Thank you so much for having me on. And I do want to take the moment to thank Assemblywoman Niou for her extraordinary leadership, because one thing that has not gotten enough attention in the last 24 hours, since Cuomo has resigned, is something that all New York politicians and leaders know, which is that he is extraordinary — extraordinarily vengeful and will destroy people’s careers, will go out of his way to make sure that those who speak up against him are crushed and vanished. And Assemblywoman Niou, as well as the extraordinarily brave survivors, who should never have been in the position they were in, their speaking up has been an incredible service for all New Yorkers, and it has been with extraordinary bravery, because they are not wrong to be scared of Cuomo’s revenge.

When I ran against Andrew Cuomo, just as one small example of hundreds of such examples, two — a few organizations supported me, including the New York chapter of the National Organization of Women and the Public Employees Federation. Cuomo threatened to destroy the leaders of those organizations. And after my race, after I got about 34% of the vote with their support, both of those leaders were gone. He made sure they no longer could keep their leadership position. So, when he threatens, he threatens with the full power — threatened — I’m not used to the past tense yet, and we can’t wait for those 14 days, for the past tense — with the full power of the state resources behind him.

So, as you hear these stories of these survivors and the extraordinary report by Attorney General Tish James, which interviewed over 170 witnesses and looked at over 50,000 documents, remember, it is not just that he was doing these sort of gross abuses and assaults. There is no time at which there was a cultural line where it was OK to grope, proposition your employees. He was doing it not — with this deep threat of state power behind him, and he never hesitated to use the power of the state, state resources, to serve his own ends.

So, my feeling yesterday was one of extraordinary relief for the state of New York, which has crumbling infrastructure, some of the highest inequality in the nation, and feeling of relief that we might finally have a government worthy of its people, and extraordinary gratitude to those who dare to speak up against a petty tyrant with too much power.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And I’m wondering if you could also talk about the general situation that continues to exist in Albany and in many state capitals across the country, not only of the harassment of women — we’ve seen it over and over again, not just with governors, but also with elected assemblymen and senators and their staffs — and the fact that most of the state capitals have very little press coverage anymore to, somehow or other, hold people accountable. I’m wondering: Do you expect that there’s going to be any significant change in the culture of this corruption at the state government level?

ZEPHYR TEACHOUT: We are at that moment of significant change in New York. And this is after decades upon decades of a old boys’ club that covers up its own, both in terms of sexual harassment, sexual assault and corruption. And these two are deeply intertwined. There’s an abuse of power that connects these two.

I think it’s important to understand, as Assemblywoman Niou was mentioning, that Andrew Cuomo not only used this powerful position to abuse women, but also used it to retaliate against them and also used his staff to cover up nursing home deaths, lying about the number of people who had died in nursing homes, and then lying about the reason he lied, so that he could make millions in a book deal and do a victory lap and look like the hero, while people were suffering. He epitomizes the connection between abusive power of toxic masculinity and the abuse of power in corruption.

So, what is changing in New York? Which relates to why Andrew Cuomo resigned. He did not resign in a fit of love, as he described yesterday. Those of us who watched him know that this is a man who rules entirely by fear and power, not love. He resigned because he could count the numbers, and for the first time he knew that he would be impeached, he would be convicted, and he would no longer be able to run for office in the future.

Now, why did that happen? It happened because of local, grassroots organizing that elected a new generation of lawmakers, lawmakers who, despite the threats to their career, to their constituents — because this is what Andrew Cuomo does, is he threatens to take away money from people’s local needs, so lawmakers are afraid to speak up not only for how he will smear them in the press, but also for the effects on his constituents. We have a new generation of lawmakers rising up. And it is so important to support them, to support the legislation that Assemblywoman Niou talked about, the Adult Survivors Act, among others, and to take this moment and say we don’t want to replace Andrew Cuomo with somebody else who is backed by big real estate money, big healthcare money, and holds all the strings of powers in his or her hands. We need a new generation of small-D democratic leadership, where we see the Legislature leading, where the executive branch doesn’t collect power and dole it out as favors and punishments.

So it’s a major moment for New York state, but I would argue it’s a major moment for the Democratic Party nationally. We should be proud that Democrats, looking at somebody who had a “D” next to their name — and Andrew Cuomo has always been a bit of a Ronald Reagan-Margaret Thatcher Democrat; if his name wasn’t Cuomo, you might think he was a Republican — but that Democrats had the moral courage to say, “No. Yes, he’s a Democrat, but what he has done is beyond the pale.” And that is something we should be proud of and make sure that we do in other states, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Zephyr Teachout, and we just have a minute, ironically, the resignation of Governor Cuomo is paving the way for the first woman New York governor — 

ZEPHYR TEACHOUT: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: — Kathy Hochul — 

ZEPHYR TEACHOUT: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: — who became a congressmember after winning a special election, because the previous congressmember was forced to resign because of sexual malfeasance. But what do you know of soon-to-be Governor Hochul?

ZEPHYR TEACHOUT: Well, when she was — she’s been sort of at Andrew Cuomo’s side. She has been a lieutenant governor who largely serves as a spokesperson, not a lieutenant governor who has been a public critic. But before that, what we know is that she was fairly conservative. She was a bank lobbyist before she became lieutenant governor. When I ran in 2014, my running mate was Tim Wu, who ran for lieutenant governor and pointed out that she was opposed to driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants at the time. She has changed her position on that. There is bit of a blank slate question here. It’s been a long time since she has run on her own platform.

But I think what is critical here is that — you know, Kathy Hochul and I don’t share the same politics, but I believe Kathy Hochul will not abuse her position of power. I believe Kathy Hochul will not use threats, abuse her staffers, and that we need to take this moment to transform the deeply corrupt and abusive and toxic culture of Albany. And I will be pushing her to be a — lead as a progressive governor.

But again, and I said this before, this is the moment for the state Legislature in New York. It is a moment to stop looking at individual leaders and look at the small-D democratic moment, so we can have leaders like Assemblywoman Niou, who has been so brave and leading on legislation that would allow New York to thrive, with funding for schools and infrastructures, for building New York. And that requires both a change in our understanding of what is possible in New York, but also a wholehearted rejection of granting anyone so much power to be so abusive as Andrew Cuomo had.

AMY GOODMAN: Zephyr Teachout, we want to thank you for being with us, professor of law at Fordham University. In 2014, she ran for the Democratic Party nomination for New York governor against the incumbent, Andrew Cuomo. And also thank you to Democratic Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou.

Coming up, Senate Democrats advance two major spending packages around infrastructure. We’ll speak with Congressmember Ro Khanna about infrastructure and then Afghanistan. Stay with us.

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