Team Cuomo isn’t sweating the lt. governor primary

Really, why would anyone want to be lieutenant governor of New York? The present LG, Bob Duffy is quitting without being pushed, or so the official word goes. The former Rochester mayor and police chief is a personable, tall guy who never strayed from the Cuomo line. When I interviewed him on the radio there was never a hint of independent thinking. He was a good soldier parroting whatever Andrew Cuomo’s positions were. Unlike former lieutenant governors like Mario Cuomo and Mary Anne Krupsak who were never above carving out their own spots, Duffy played the good soldier never giving a hint that the two men might differ on some subjects. Maybe they didn’t but for whatever reason, Duffy quit.

Some close to the Cuomo camp say that he got out because of constant problems with a bad back and the immense amount of travelling that the man had to do carrying the Cuomo message. It was a hard thankless job offset by only one small factoid. If the governor dies or goes to jail or quits the lieutenant governor becomes governor. It happened recently when David Paterson became the governor after Eliot Spitzer resigned.

So, there are many people who, thinking that this is an elevated and visible way to make your way up the chain in politics. Since it is a fact of life that if you’re a Democrat you probably have to come from New York City or its environs to be governor and that means that the lieutenant governor has to come from what we call, “upstate.” That’s why Cuomo choose Duffy and why he has now turned to a one term Congresswoman turned bank lobbyist, Kathy Hochul.

On some level the Hochul nomination makes sense. She comes from upstate Hamburg and Cuomo has spent immense amounts of time there obviously believing that the area has major strategic importance in his reelection campaign. Also, Hochul is a woman adding female balance to the ticket. On the other hand she comes with some baggage. The first is that the voters rejected her in her bid for reelection to Congress. It’s tough to be a loser in politics and to win higher office although no one really thinks that the ticket is in danger. The second is that in order to please her former congressional constituents she played the role of a conservative on such issues as gun control and immigration and was endorsed by the NRA. On the other hand, if you remember, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand had the same problem when she was an upstate Congresswoman. As soon as she became a senator she “evolved” as was predicated by Senator Schumer, and changed her tune on the same issues that now plague Hochul. The Cuomo people will tell you that she supports Cuomo’s signature “Safe Act,” his gun control effort that so infuriates the gun people.

One of the perplexing parts of the state’s election law is that to be elected as a lieutenant governor candidate you have to run in your own primary for the position even though when you actually get on the ballot you run as a pair with gubernatorial candidate. Since Cuomo is perceived as a conservative Democrat he is being contested by Zephyr Teachout and Tim Wu a Columbia Law professor will primary Hochul. Since Wu, comes from the left and the City where the Democratic primary voters live, his backers think he has a shot. I suspect that if it gets close, the Cuomo team will expend some of its multi million dollars that they have in their campaign coffers to buttress the Hochul primary. Right now they don’t sound like they’re sweating it.

It has happened in the past that someone has been elected in a primary that was not to the liking of the gubernatorial candidate. That’s what happened to Al DelBello the former Westchester County Executive who was so frustrated in the job that he quit midway through his tenure as lieutenant governor. Ironically, Mario Cuomo was the governor.

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 7/14/14

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