Duffy selection is a victory for the Cuomo team

Andrew Cuomo has chosen his candidate for lieutenant governor. He is Bob Duffy, the mayor of Rochester, New York and a virtual unknown “who-he?” to most New Yorkers. In the old days, this choice didn’t count for much. No one really cared who the LG was. However, since the fall of Eliot Spitzer and the rise of David Paterson, we now know that the choice for number two is very important. After all, the guy is a heartbeat away from being governor. If one knows the Cuomos and the way they think, which is politically, you had better believe that they have specific criteria for who becomes the number two person in the administration. First and foremost, they need someone they can trust. When Papa Mario ran, he was saddled with Al Del Bello and that didn’t work out. Del Bello quit in disgust. Mario had great success with his subsequent Lieutenant Governor, Stan Lundine, a former mayor of Jamestown, New York. Get that? A mayor. Lundine was a decent man but he was about as far removed from the magical rhetoric of Mario as any politician might be. Mario never had to worry about who was holding a knife at his back. In selecting Bob Duffy as his running mate, Cuomo has chosen a man with conservative (for a Democrat) credentials; a man who was a cop; a man who has tangled with the unions. Let the message go forth, “I, Andrew Cuomo, know that there are tough times ahead and I will choose a man who knows how to operate in tough times.”

If you take a look at the new book of Cuomo positions, “The New York Agenda: A Plan for Action,” you will find some other clues as to why he chose Duffy. One of Cuomo’s most important agenda items is education and Duffy is a guy who believes in mayoral control of the schools. When the state of education in New York City was in chaos because of something called “Community School Boards,” Mike Bloomberg came along and took control of the schools. The message was, “Hold me responsible for education.” He appointed Chancellor Joel Klein who has managed to change the culture of New York schools for the better. Clearly, the Cuomos have always sought the same thing. Under the State constitution, they can’t have it because the education function goes to the Assembly controlled New York State Board of Regents. It could well be that part of the Duffy appeal is that he represents what Andrew wants to do with education.

Another way to look at the selection of Duffy is to examine not who he did appoint but who he didn’t appoint. Eliot Spitzer thought it sent a good message to appoint someone of color to the number two job. That’s how we got David Paterson, a good man saddled with multiple albatrosses around his neck. While Andrew didn’t appoint a person of color, he was smart enough to have a whole phalanx of African American politicians ready to endorse his selection. Nor did he choose a woman. You may remember that George Pataki appointed Betsy McCaughey as his lieutenant governor and chaos ensued. Maybe Andrew remembered that if that relationship soured he might have had to defend himself against an inevitable, albeit unfair, charge of sexism. In any case, he didn’t do it and he hasn’t taken any substantial heat for his choice.

In these times of a virtually bankrupt exchequer in New York, a big part of the problem is the relationship between the various levels of government. In a Cuomo governorship, someone is going to have to take charge of the negotiations between the towns, villages, cities and the state. Duffy will be well positioned to do that. Cuomo has made it plain that a big part of the problem is that we are spending too much because we have too many levels of government. Up to now, that was a luxury we thought we could afford. Now we have to pay the piper and my bet is that Duffy will have to be a lead negotiator in combining these governmental entities, including the extraordinary number of school districts in the state.

In any case, Andrew selected Duffy and he seems to have gotten away with it without ruffling feathers. Chalk up one for team Cuomo.

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 5/31/10

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