Bernie would’ve won, but Will Yandik didn’t stand a chance
In Hudson, New York, there’s a bar across the street from my apartment, a cheaper bar down the main drag near the train station, and a coffee shop next door. Until recently, that was roughly the extent of my understanding of the town I moved to in May.
I’m still registered to vote in Connecticut’s 1st district, where I lived when I was 18, so I didn’t pay much attention to New York’s 19th district. I got a sense that I should root for the Working Families-endorsed Zephyr Teachout, though, after Bernie Sanders came to the area to stump for her.
Shortly after the election, my roommate — who’s lived in Hudson for the majority of her adult life — vented to me about Teachout and how Sanders’s endorsement (whether intentionally or not) screwed over the other Democratic candidate, who “people actually liked.”
“He has a gayby,” she said. She couldn’t remember his name.
Will Yandik lost to Teachout in the Democratic primary in New York’s 19th district — a congressional seat vacated by Republican Chris Gibson.
A proud graduate of Princeton and Brown, Yandik, 38, returned to the Valley in 2009 to tend to his fourth-generation family farm with his mother and two brothers in Livingston. Green Acres Farm produces fruits, veggies, eggs, and honey, and operates a locally famous roadside stand.
Yandik married his husband, Amir, in May 2015. Together they adopted a “gayby.”
Teachout, 45, moved from New York City — where she teaches at Fordham University School of Law — to a rented home in Dover in 2015. One year earlier, she surprised incumbent Gov. Andrew Cuomo in the state’s Democratic primary, winning nearly the entire Hudson Valley and a third of the state. (She was such a dark horse, that Teachout didn’t have Cuomo’s phone number to call and concede on election night.)
In June 2016, during the Democratic primary debate on Time Warner Cable News, Teachout repeatedly took ownership of Gov. Cuomo’s state-wide fracking ban, which The New York Times said was “likely [an effort] to help repair his ties to his party’s left wing … after a surprisingly contentious re-election campaign.”
She and Yandik saw eye-to-eye on almost every issue except for a $15 federal minimum wage, which he opposed. Other differences of opinion were marginal at most (e.g. Yandik opposed total student loan forgiveness, while Teachout proposed a sort of case-by-case assessment).
The two Democrats agreed on at least one aspect of campaign finance reform.
“We need a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United,” argued Yandik.
“Donors are buying candidates,” Teachout concurred. “The big donors … aren’t just giving money for fun. They’re giving money for tax loopholes, they’re giving money for corporate tax loopholes, and we are bleeding money out of these corporate tax loopholes that you could drive a truck through.”
A carpet-bagger who’d never held public office, Teachout wasn’t a stellar candidate by any practical measure, but the Democrats could’ve done worse.
Teachout was already well-known statewide from her gubernatorial bid. She had the backing of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders — who dominated upstate and western New York in the Democratic presidential primary, winning all but three counties: Erie, which contains Buffalo; Monroe, which contains Rochester; and Onondaga — as well as the Working Families Party and Progressive Change Campaign Committee.
In New York’s 19th district — which Sanders won in the primaries by 18 points, his largest margin of victory in the state — a Bernie endorsement propelled a mediocre candidate to the Democratic nomination. Teachout won the primary over Yandik with ease: 73–27 percent (12,409–4,550).
She also got a boost from New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who praised Teachout in a March fundraising email.
“I can tell you one of my favorite things about Zephyr: She’s worked for years to raise the voices of women in politics,” Gillibrand wrote. “She’s co-organized events to encourage New York women and teachers to run for office. She’s volunteered for Girls on the Run. She’s been a mentor for young women almost her entire life — pushing for more women in business and politics.”
However, evidence from the Podesta leaks suggests Gillibrand was motivated to send the email in order to, as Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook put it, “keep her from being too vocal” about her support for Bernie Sanders.
Teachout spokeswoman Alexis Grenell called the accusations “simply not true,” adding, “The only thing those emails reveal is that Zephyr Teachout is a royal ‘pain in the ass’ to the Democratic establishment.”
Still, Teachout’s implication in corruption accusations against the Clinton campaign garnered the attention of the pro-Trump New York Post, which wrote, “the clean-money principled progressive sold out — abandoning the Sanders rebellion against big-money politics in exchange for help funding her own campaign.”
The Post hit piece went on:
Voters have plenty of other reasons to choose John Faso, her Republican opponent. He’s actually lived in the district for decades and is backed by retiring incumbent Rep. Chris Gibson.
He’s also opposed to the tax hikes (on energy, homes, incomes and probably everything else) that Teachout embraces. She is, after all, a New York City lefty.
Albeit one who’s willing to go quiet on her principles — for a price.
Sanders endorsement aside, it’s unlikely the seat was ever in danger of flipping. Republicans had a failsafe: rich dudes.
An extensive Hedge Clippers report discovered that six hedge fund billionaires from New York City, Connecticut, and Long Island — Paul Singer, Robert Mercer, Julian Robertson, Leon Black, Thomas McInerney, and Cliff Asness — threw more than $5.5 million worth of support behind Faso in an effort to preserve the carried interest tax loophole.
One of the benefactors, Mercer, is CEO of Renaissance Technologies and a Breitbart News investor who’s believed to have helped install Steve Bannon as President-elect Donald Trump’s campaign chairman.
Per the report: “These six hedge fund managers and billionaires have given a total of $92,658,814 to federal candidates and committees since 2000, and another $10,110,126 to New York state candidates and committees since 2000.”
Via three PACs and super PACs, $4,472,156 of that money went specifically to “attacking Zephyr Teachout and supporting John Faso.”
Faso won the district by 9 points, keeping the seat in Republican hands. Teachout won just one (Ulster) of 11 possible counties.
It’s fair to think that had some of Hillary Clinton’s $1.4 billion in campaign cash found its way to Teachout — who still out-raised and out-spent her Republican opponent — it could’ve decided the election.
And while the 19th is a case study in the influence of dark money, the presidential election demonstrated that campaign finances are most useful when spent pragmatically.
Few know that better than former Democratic state representative in Pennsylvania’s 39th district, David Levdansky, the 13-term incumbent who saw his seat snatched from him by Republican Rick Saccone in 2010.
In the three weeks leading up to the mid-term election, Levdansky “pulled his pickup to the mailbox and found yet another attack mailer waiting for him,” according to David Daley’s Ratf**ked (Norton, 2016).
The barrage of negative mailers was the result of GOP strategist Chris Jankowski’s Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC), which injected an estimated $150,000 into the final weeks of the race to effectively disrupt the Democrats’ 102–101 majority in the state house.
While $150,000 wouldn’t necessarily sway a congressional — much less presidential — election, it decided Pennsylvania’s 39th.
Beyond campaign finance, though, down-ballot elections depend partly on turnout, which depends largely on who’s at the top of the ticket. Far more people viewed Hillary Clinton unfavorably than viewed her favorably, yet she was still thrown the keys to the Tesla.
Democrats better hope it’s not too late to start showing love — financial and otherwise — to congressional, state, and municipal candidates.