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Duffy in the spotlight

Rochester Mayor Robert J. Duffy, left, and Democratic candidate for governor of New York, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, participate in a news conference Wednesday, when Cuomo introduced Duffy as his running mate. Richard Drew for The Associated Press

Rochester Mayor Robert J. Duffy, left, and Democratic candidate for governor of New York, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, participate in a news conference Wednesday, when Cuomo introduced Duffy as his running mate. Richard Drew for The Associated Press

Rochester Mayor Robert J. Duffy, tapped by Democratic gubernatorial candidate and Attorney General Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday to be his potential lieutenant governor, is suddenly in the spotlight and in a big way.

The question is how long will the light be trained on him. If being lieutenant governor is analogous with being vice president of the United States, it’s worth remembering that John Nance “Cactus Jack” Garner, vice president under FDR from 1933-41 famously said the office “is not worth a bucket of warm spit.”

It’s also worth remembering that New York’s current Gov. David A. Paterson once upon a time was the lieutenant governor.

Dave Primo, associate professor of political science at the University of Rochester, said Duffy’s role as lieutenant governor — if elected — will depend on his relationship with Cuomo and that it’s ultimately up to Duffy “to shape” the job.

Primo said he believes that Cuomo — who had many other candidates from which to choose — wants Duffy to take an active role since he’s perceived as youthful and energetic, and appears to have a strong political skill set. In other words, Cuomo must not be intimidated by Duffy, a popular mayor with a bright future who would not have accepted the job if he did not see it as beneficial for New York State and/or himself.

Cuomo “could have picked someone who wanted to sit behind his desk all day,” Primo said. “Reading the tea leaves, this is a way for [Duffy] to take his career to the next level.”

While conceding the lieutenant governor’s job has minimal impact, Primo said Cuomo may envision Duffy’s involvement in projects such as regulating state unions and dealing with their contracts — a job the mayor has performed in the past. In any case, Primo said Duffy’s nod can’t hurt the City of Rochester itself, and may be a boon as far as getting projects for the region.

In the meantime, newshounds outside of the 585 area code scrambled Wednesday to figure out just who Duffy might be.

The Associated Press reported that “Robert Duffy, Andrew Cuomo’s choice to join his run for governor, is the mayor and former police chief in Rochester, a battered but resilient city grappling with soaring deficits and long haunted by a high homicide toll.” 

That was a typical thumbnail sketch of Duffy and Rochester in a variety of reports and, for a few days — perhaps only one — Duffy’s political notoriety will rise, not only in New York but nationally as he begins his run with a member of one of New York’s most famous political names.

Duffy is seen as a means to complement Cuomo’s Downstate base with some Upstate political power. He’s still somewhat of a mystery statewide, at least according to a report Wednesday in The Buffalo News, which quoted a high-ranking official from the opposing party: “I don’t know much about him. He’s an upstate mayor, and I can see why he was selected for that geographic purpose, but beyond that I don’t know anything about him,” state GOP Chairman Ed Cox said.

The New York Times reported that Cuomo had been considering Duffy since November and that many New York Democrats viewed him as the leading candidate: “Mr. Cuomo and his advisers see Mr. Duffy, a popular former police chief, as a person who could bring upstate representation to a government that has been dominated by Democrats from New York City and Long Island.”

A blog by Robert Singer on the Huffington Post had this to say: “Reporter extraordinaire, Liz Benjamin, on her superb State of Politics Blog, reports: ‘Duffy, … according to sources I spoke with in the Rochester area, is ‘squeaky clean.’”

Singer himself commented on the lieutenant governor’s thankless role, while offering a bit of intrigue: “There are other candidates vying for the Lt. Governor slot (why?) with the most intriguing being Bill Samuels  [who] has vowed to stay in the Lt. Governor race and petition his way onto the ballot.”

The Wall Street Journal noted the Paterson angle: “In New York, voters elect the lieutenant governor separately from the governor. With few exceptions, however, New York gubernatorial candidates have paired up with a running mate. Four years ago, Eliot L. Spitzer surprised Democrats by tapping David A. Paterson, at the time a high-ranking legislator from Harlem, to run with him.

“The choice proved to be more important than anyone imagined two years later when Mr. Spitzer resigned from office amid a prostitution scandal, elevating an untested Mr. Paterson to the state’s highest post.”
The Journal also noted: “Cuomo, a Queens native and resident of Lower Manhattan, has paired himself with a law-and-order and deeply religious Rust Belt mayor, who rose through the ranks of Rochester’s police force before turning to politics in 2005.”

The Albany Times-Union offered up a straightforward bio: “The two-term Democrat spent 29 years in the police force before his first run for office in 2005. His most high-profile undertaking has been to push for mayoral control of public schools, saying a city-run operation would lower costs, lift academic performance and enhance safety in the 34,000-student district.”

Maggie Haberman, of Politico, reiterated the significance in relation to Paterson’s elevation and also brought up the issue of diversity, or lack thereof, a problem echoed by many other bloggers. “The LG post was elevated to significant importance over its once-ceremonial value after the governmental crisis Eliot Spitzer caused when he resigned in 2008, and several observers described Duffy as a ‘safe’ choice who won’t make waves but has executive experience to compliment [sic] the top of the ticket.

“What the ticket now lacks totally, however, is any ethnic diversity, even without knowing yet who the AG candidate will be, since all five prospects are white (and just one, Cuomo’s preferred pick, is a woman).
“When Cuomo ran in 2002, his number two was Charlie King, a longtime ally who is now the executive director of the state Democratic party, and who is African-American.”

At home, city Council President Lovely Warren expressed “great pride” in Duffy’s selection: “We are extremely pleased about Mayor Duffy’s selection, and sincerely believe he is the best choice for this position.

“While losing Mayor Duffy will indeed be a loss for our community, we know that having him in Albany will positively impact our city, as well as other upstate localities. It will certainly be wonderful to have someone with full access to the Governor who truly understands the plight of upstate New York, and who has first-hand knowledge of the issues we face.  … [W]e believe he can ultimately impact upstate New York in far greater ways as Lieutenant Governor.  And with the strong City Council that is currently in place, as well as the great administrative team the Mayor has already assembled, there’s no question we will be able to do what is best for our city. We will all work together to make sure that the City of Rochester is well taken care of, and that our community continues to move forward,” Warren’s statement said.