Cuomo challenger fights to stay on the ballot

Law professor Zephyr Teachout is in legal fight to stay on ballot.
Law professor Zephyr Teachout is in legal fight to stay on ballot.

NEW YORK (AP) — Law professor Zephyr Teachout on Thursday defended her campaign to unseat Gov. Andrew Cuomo against claims that she hasn’t lived in New York long enough to be on next month’s Democratic Primary ballot.

Teachout said she has been a New York resident since she took a job at Fordham University in 2009 despite a recent Vermont driver’s license and documents on which she listed a Vermont address.

Cuomo’s supporters say Teachout doesn’t meet the state’s five-year residency requirement for gubernatorial candidates and want her campaign disqualified. They took their challenge to court on Thursday, and a decision is expected late next week.

Teachout, who lives in Brooklyn, said she has spent time during the summers in Vermont, where she was raised and where her family still lives. On Thursday she called the residency challenge a “frivolous” attempt by Cuomo’s campaign to eliminate a primary foe.

The residency challenge was filed by suburban New York City residents Harris Weiss and Austin Sternlicht, registered Democrats who are represented in the case by former state Sen. Martin Connor, a New York attorney who specializes in election law.

In court, Connor questioned Teachout about why she waited until this year to obtain a New York driver’s license and pointed to a 2012 campaign finance record on which she had listed an old Vermont address. She called it a harmless error, blaming “muscle memory.”

Connor also questioned her about a 2009 tax return that asked how many months she had lived in New York at the time of the filing. She originally answered zero months but recently amended the return to change it to six months.

“It was clearly a mistake,” she said.

During a break in testimony, Teachout accused Cuomo of trying to divert attention from allegations that his administration meddled with an anti-corruption commission.

“Andrew Cuomo is scared,” she told reporters. “He would rather that I’m not on the ballot and is bringing this really frivolous and baseless lawsuit instead of having a debate where we actually talk about both the issues and answer the questions that have arisen about his character in the past couple weeks.”

A spokesman for Cuomo’s campaign declined to comment on the challenge on Thursday.

Teachout mounted her bid to oust Cuomo after losing the endorsement of the left-leaning Working Families Party to the governor this spring. Cuomo won the backing of the party after promising to work for liberal priorities, including a higher minimum wage and broad public campaign financing.

Teachout has criticized Cuomo for backing business-friendly tax policies and charter schools and says he hasn’t done enough to combat income inequality. Polls show her campaign remains unknown to many voters.

The Democratic Primary is Sept. 9. The ballot also will include a third candidate, comedian and drug law critic Randy Credico.

Other contenders in the governor’s race include Republican Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino and Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins.

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Klepper reported from Albany.

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