Zephyr Teachout lost her second political race in two years Tuesday night but reassured her supporters that “this is our moment.”
“We took a beating here,” Teachout said, “Not just me, but the values of our democracy. Because they weren’t just attacking me, they were attacking all of us. We lost this campaign, but it is part of something bigger. It’s part of a revolution on the Hudson.
“Once in a generation, we are called upon to restore American democracy,” Teachout said. “It’s urgent, and it’s going to take all of us. If there’s one thing I learned on the campaign trail it’s that we are more than brave enough, and we are more than smart enough to take on this challenge. So this is our moment. We may have lost this race, but we are not going away.”
Teachout lost to her opponent John Faso, a Republican, for the 19th Congressional District after a long, bitter race that was closely watched by both national parties.
Teachout supporters at the Rhinecliff Hotel Tuesday night waited anxiously for the poll numbers across the Hudson Valley district to come trickling in. As they gathered around and conversed, it became clear how far Teachout’s message of corruption free democracy reached. Those at the election night celebration ranged from children to senior citizens, each with the same spark of hope that their champion would win.
Children were seen holding signs supporting Teachout, while high school and college students conversed, speaking highly of Teachout and her campaign.
“I’ve volunteered on Zephyr’s campaign for the past two months, about once or twice a week,” said Sarah Williams, one of many millennials showing her support for Teachout at the election party.
Williams said the hardest part of the campaign was “dealing with the people” on the other side of the political spectrum. “It’s a lot of verbal abuse, and a lot of threats coming at me sometimes,” she said. “I really do feel like it’s all worth it though, because I feel like she’s worth it.”
“She’s a fighter,” Williams added. “I don’t think that if she loses that this will be her final stop.”
In fact, Teachout did lose the race to Faso — a former state assemblyman — by a margin of 52 to 43 percent, a difference of about 27,000 votes of the nearly 300,000 cast.
The 19th congressional district includes Columbia, Delaware, Greene, Otsego, Schoharie, Sullivan and Ulster counties and parts of Broome, Dutchess, Montgomery and Rensselaer counties.
The seat was vacated by Rep. Chris Gibson who had pledged to not serve more than four terms in office. He is retiring after three.
Despite the loss, Teachout told her supporters late Tuesday night that she is proud of the campaign and the message she carried to voters in the Hudson Valley.
“I am so proud of our campaign,” said Teachout, “because our campaign was built on honest, respectful, grassroots democracy. I am just so proud of the hundred thousand doors, a hundred thousand doors that were knocked on by people just going door to door, putting their heart out there.
“I am so proud to have stood shoulder to shoulder with labor unions, and with the incredible, powerful support of labor from across the board,” Teachout continued, “calling members saying ‘this matters for our unions, for prevailing wage, for the right to organize.’”
Teachout has had the support of labor unions since her Democratic primary campaign against New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2014 where she garnered 34 percent of the primary vote.
“I am proud that we ran this campaign totally different in the way that we funded it,” she said. “It was funded with the honest contributions of people making $19 average contribution.”
Teachout’s grassroots-style fundraising takes inspiration from Bernie Sanders and Howard Dean who are known for raising funds through small donations from many people.
She claimed that Faso’s campaign spent more than $7 million in attack ads alone.
“What we had was you,” Teachout told her supporters. “Every time they tried to shut us up with another million-dollar super PAC contribution, we responded with another 10,000 people reaching into their pocket and giving $19. It was incredible.”
Teachout, a professor of law at Fordham University in the Bronx, was endorsed by U.S. Senators Bernie Sanders, Kirsten Gillibrand and Chuck Schumer as well as environmental groups and teachers unions.
“One of the core super PACs that joined in the attack said I was a unique threat,” Teachout said. “You, we together are the unique threat that they fear.” Teachout continued, “It’s when people speak up, that’s the threat they fear, because the billionaires behind these super PACs win if we stay home. So after tonight, we’ve got to knock on even more doors. We are not going to let them break us. We are not going to let them take this sacred institution of American democracy.”
Teachout quoted her hero FDR: “‘The average man must once more confront the problem that confronted the minuteman, political tyranny.’ Well, the minutemen won their fight against political tyranny two centuries ago, and our grandparents working with FDR won their fight against economic tyranny 80 years ago, and so will we.”
Although her supporters were upset by the loss, Teachout managed to ignite a spark of life back into the room, and her speech was met with thunderous applause during each pause.
After the speech, Evan Scitz, a Teachout supporter, said “The true progressives, for the first time in a long time, are actually gaining a voice.”