Tomorrow is the primary election for statewide officials in New York. Generally, the citizenry doesn’t much care about this: Voter turnout for midterm elections is historically lower than turnout for presidential elections, hovering around 40 percent in recent decades, and midterm primaries for federal officials bring even fewer voters to the polls. Statewide and local primaries? They command the fewest voters of all. It would be a surprise if even fifteen percent of New York’s registered voters cast ballots tomorrow.
You should endeavor to count yourself among them, for tomorrow is a more important day than it may at first seem. I’ll save you the tired tripe about performing your civic duty and instead ask: do you care who governs the State of New York, in which you live (unless you’re an absentee; more on that anon)? If you do, you should make haste to your polling site between the hours of 6 a.m. and 9 p.m. tomorrow and vote, because the Democratic gubernatorial primary will essentially determine the next governor of New York.
With all due respect to Rob Astorino, a Westchester County Executive and the Republican gubernatorial nominee, tomorrow’s showdown between three candidates vying for the Democratic nomination is for all the marbles. Current governor Andrew Cuomo is the presumed frontrunner; so presumed, in fact, that Republican party leadership views him as invulnerable, and are using their nomination simply to raise the profile of an up-and-comer for a future run at statewide office. Things in Cuomo’s advantage: he is extremely well-funded, already occupies the office for which he’s running, and is broadly popular across much of the state. The governor is running about 30 percent ahead of Astorino in recent polls.
But Zephyr Teachout didn’t get the memo. Teachout is a professor at Fordham Law School, an expert on political corruption, and an advocate for political transparency and reform, the need for which is an oft-criticized result of Cuomo’s tenure. She fashioned her campaign on her political-outsider status, riding the same populist wave within the Democratic Party that has lifted politicians like Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Mayor Bill de Blasio. “I represent the core values of where New York is, and the reason that so many people are disappointed with [Cuomo] is that he is not serving them, not listening to them and not leading in the direction they want to go,” Teachout said recently. “He’s fighting for himself.”
It’s a David-vs-Goliath matchup, one few handicappers predict will go Teachout’s way. Despite high-profile endorsements from public interest groups, labor unions, and Mark Ruffalo, she’s expected to garner only about 20 to 30 percent of the vote. (A third candidate, comedian Randy Credico, is projected for significantly less than that.) For the most part, Cuomo has not actively campaigned, relying instead on the smug incumbent’s strategy of ignoring one’s opponent (when he’s not having his staff challenge her ballot qualifications). But Teachout’s spirited (and highly-visible) challenge from Cuomo’s left has shaken the governor’s already-fraught relationship with liberals and progressives. Teachout has highlighted several issues where Cuomo has fallen short: ethics reform, immigration legislation, campaign finance reform, budget cuts to education, and tax policies that favor the wealthy. If Cuomo emerges from tomorrow’s primary, he won’t do so unscathed. Perhaps that will be enough to convince him that a clean-up of Albany is long overdue.
The gubernatorial rumble is the key contest on tomorrow’s ballot, but it’s far from the only one. The undercard race for lieutenant governor has become heated alongside the main event. Cuomo’s running mate is Kathy Hochul, formerly the U.S. Representative for New York’s 26th Congressional District, in western New York. She was nominated by Gov. Cuomo in May to replace the outgoing Robert Duffy, who is retiring for health reasons.
Hochul is a co-founder and Board of Directors member at Kathleen Mary House, a transitional home for women and children who are victims of domestic violence. As a congresswoman, she supported bills that required states to recognize the concealed weapons permits of other states and encouraged hydraulic fracturing, a controversial form of natural gas drilling; she now says she supports New York’s moratorium on hydraulic fracturing. Broadly speaking, Hochul is a conservative Democrat, although she’s taken a variety of safely-liberal political stances, coming out in support of abortion rights, same-sex marriage, and the state’s Dream Act, which would give some undocumented college students access to state financial aid.
Hochul won her congressional seat in a special election in 2011 in one of the state’s most conservative districts. She lost the following year in a bitterly contested race, but in her short time she endeared herself to the party leadership. After leaving office, she worked as a lobbyist for Buffalo-based M&T Bank. Her opponent is Tim Wu, like Teachout a law professor (he’s at Columbia). If Teachout has but a hope and a prayer of winning her race, Wu has a puncher’s chance of winning his.
Wu is an influential scholar of media and Internet policy; he coined the term “net neutrality,” contributes to the New Yorker, and has inspiring ideas about how to harness technology to make government more transparent, improve economic infrastructure, and decentralize private power. From 2011 to 2012, Wu served as a Senior Advisor to the Federal Trade Commission, specializing in antitrust, copyright, and telecommunications law. Back in June, shortly after entering the race, he told the Washington Post to expect a “progressive-style, trust-busting kind of campaign out of me,” one that attempts to “bridge that gap between the kind of typical issues in electoral politics and questions involving private power.” Recently, he gained the coveted endorsement of the New York Times Editorial Board (which declined to endorse a candidate in the governor’s race).
That’s not all for tomorrow’s primaries: fourteen incumbents for the State Senate will face challenges tomorrow, as will 16 incumbents from the State Assembly. Every race on tomorrow’s ballot can be seen here. The New York Board of Elections website has helpful links to just about any concern or question you may have. For November’s general election, the last day to register is October 10, and the deadline to request an absentee ballot is October 28. If you need to find out if you’re registered to vote and where you can cast your ballot, you can do so here.
Follow Phillip Pantuso on Twitter @phillippantuso.