Let me speak to your manager: NY Dem challenges rival's top donors to debate

© Zephyr Teachout for Congress Info
A rare contested race for the US House of Representatives in New York just got more interesting. Democrat Zephyr Teachout has just issued a debate challenge – not to her Republican opponent John Faso, but to his wealthy donors.

At stake is New York’s 19th congressional district, located in the Hudson River Valley between New York City and the state capital of Albany. Republican Representative Chris Gibson announced in January that he would not seek re-election, setting the stage for a clash between Teachout and Faso in November.

While Teachout has been endorsed by Governor Andrew Cuomo and former Democratic presidential contender Bernie Sanders, Faso has the endorsement of Gibson and the financial support from hedge fund billionaires Paul Singer and Robert Mercer.

On Monday, Teachout took the unprecedented step of challenging Singer and Mercer directly, accusing the wealthy donors of buying the election in a video ad. She specifically calls out Singer, head of Elliott Management Corporation, to debate her on offshoring jobs, the Common Core teaching curriculum, and hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking.

“When someone writes a $500,000 check they don’t do it out of the goodness of their heart,” Teachout said in a statement. “These are people probably trying to buy power, and voters should know who they are and what they stand for. I’m challenging Paul Singer and Robert Mercer to put your mouth where your money is and debate me directly, not through your mouthpiece.”

Neither Singer nor Mercer, who is the co-CEO of Renaissance Technologies, have responded to the challenge yet.

The debate invitation is a clever publicity stunt for Teachout, the Huffington Post noted, because it highlights her campaign message of fighting against the influence of money in politics. 

Teachout, an associate professor at Fordham Law School in Manhattan, is a former internet organizer for Democrat Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential campaign. She has already raised over $500,000 for her campaign, reportedly through small individual donations.