hill country observerThe independent newspaper of eastern New York, southwestern Vermont and the Berkshires


News July 2016



In race for open House seat, it’s insider vs. outsider


The race for an open congressional seat in the Hudson Valley this fall will pit a Democratic outsider against a Republican insider.

Democratic voters in the June 28 primary in New York’s 19th Congressional District backed Zephyr Teachout, a Fordham University law professor and anti-corruption crusader who has never held elective office. Republicans chose John Faso, a Columbia County lawyer who served 15 years in the state Assembly, ascending to minority leader.

Faso and Teachout will be competing to fill the seat of three-term incumbent Rep. Chris Gibson, R-Kinderhook, who is stepping down at the end of the year and will become a visiting lecturer at Williams College starting in February.

The 19th district stretches from Rensselaer and Columbia counties south and west to the Pennsylvania border and nearly to Binghamton, taking in all or part of nine other counties along the way. Voter registration in the district is about evenly divided between the two major political parties, but Democrats now hold a slight edge of about 2,300 voters, compared with a Republican edge of 2,700 at the time of the last congressional election in 2014.

In the Democratic primary, Teachout defeated Will Yandik, a town councilman and farmer from Columbia County, by 73 percent to 27 percent of the 17,006 votes cast, according to preliminary results compiled by the state Board of Elections. Yandik carried only his home county.
In the Republican contest, Faso defeated Andrew Heaney, a fuel-oil dealer from Dutchess County, by 68 percent to 32 percent of the 14,540 votes cast. Heaney carried only his home county.

Both of the victors have experience running statewide campaigns.

Faso left his Assembly seat to become the Republican candidate for state comptroller in 2002, and he was the party’s nominee for governor in 2006. In both races he lost to Democrats who’ve since been disgraced -- Alan Hevesi in 2002 and Eliot Spitzer in 2006. Faso won 46 percent of the statewide vote in the comptroller’s race but only 29 percent in his bid for governor.

Teachout came to prominence by mounting an unexpectedly strong challenge to Gov. Andrew Cuomo in the 2014 Democratic primary -- a race many political observers had considered utterly quixotic. She wound up winning 33 percent of the statewide primary vote against the sitting governor, and she carried 26 of the state’s 62 counties – including 10 of the 11 counties in the 19th Congressional District.

Teachout grew up in Vermont – her father was a professor at Vermont Law School, and her mother was a state judge. Her congressional campaign got an early boost from an endorsement and fund-raising appeal Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders sent out in April to supporters of his presidential bid. In a sign that she is becoming a bit less of an outsider to New York politics, Teachout’s primary campaign also was endorsed by both of the state’s U.S. senators, Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand.

But Republicans, along with some supporters of her primary opponent, have raised questions about whether Teachout is still too much of an outsider to the 19th district. She became a resident of the district only last year, when she rented an apartment in Dutchess County near Dover Plains, from which she can use the Metro North commuter train to reach her job at Fordham. She still has an apartment in Brooklyn as well.

Faso, in contrast, has had a home address in Kinderhook for more than 30 years. Kinderhook is also Gibson’s hometown, and when Gibson opted to run for Congress in 2010 after a lengthy military career, Faso became an early supporter and worked with Republican officials to help keep other candidates out of the race, ensuring Gibson would not face a primary.

Expect Teachout to raise questions, though, about whether Faso is a bit too well connected. For much of the time since he left his Assembly seat more than a decade ago, Faso worked for a large lobbying firm in Albany, and his role there was already the focus of negative campaign ads from Heaney.

Teachout picked up the theme when she gathered with supporters in Kingston to celebrate her victory in the Democratic primary. The Times Union of Albany reported that in her speech to supporters, she denounced Faso as “a creature of Albany” and “the ultimate insider.”

-- Compiled by Fred Daley