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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

WFP's Cuomo endorsement shines spotlight on Zephyr Teachout

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo delivers his nomination acceptance

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo delivers his nomination acceptance speech at the state's Democratic convention in Melville on Thursday, May 22, 2014. Credit: AP / Richard Drew


Twenty minutes before midnight Saturday, the final tally of a roll-call vote was announced at the Working Families Party convention here: Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo had 58.7 percent support for the party's top nomination, to 41.3 percent for a political unknown, Zephyr Teachout.

The outcome capped a dayslong flurry of back-channel dealings and tricky negotiations that in part led Cuomo to state, for the first time, explicit support for the goal of Democrats winning majority control of the State Senate.

The 10-hour convention also marked a political coming out for Teachout, 42, a Fordham Law School professor whom some WFP leaders pushed as a more progressive alternative to Democrat Cuomo.

Although registered as a Democrat, Teachout earned a big dose of affection in the only state party convention this season to show drama and arm-bending. She was like an honored guest. By contrast, the governor addressed delegates by prerecorded video and then by phone hookup, while sending aides to monitor the scene, thus sidestepping the bad optics of facing jeers from a vocal chunk of the audience.

Once the long night ended, Teachout, surrounded by a claque of sign-waving admirers who cheered her loudly, stood on a chair at the back of the meeting room at the Desmond Hotel, thanking the party leaders and urging the WFP as a whole to push on.

It was left to others who resisted arranging the nomination for Cuomo -- such as longtime party leaders Bertha Lewis, Susan Weber and David Schwartz -- to lodge strident grievances from the rostrum against the governor on issues as varied as charter schools, the minimum wage, tax breaks, tax caps and campaign financing.

But union leaders George Gresham, president of 1199/SEIU, and Bob Master, political director of CWA District 1, took a pragmatic pose, arguing that endorsing Cuomo would prove to be in the party's interest. Also playing a supporting role for the WFP-Cuomo pact was New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who indicated that with Democrats in charge, the Senate in 2015 would approve such measures as allowing the city to raise minimum wages above statewide levels.

It felt in the room as if a team of union negotiators, pressured by circumstance, were persuading members to ratify a contract that nobody in the bargaining unit was too crazy about.

Teachout fans cheered every bloc of votes she won. Adjourning the parley, Bill Lipton, WFP state director, choked up as he thanked her.

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