Reading the LG Tea Leaves

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What picking Rochester Mayor Duffy means for team Cuomo

By Alan S. Chartock

Andrew Cuomo has chosen his candidate for lieutenant governor. He is Bob Duffy, the mayor of Rochester, and a virtual unknown “who-he?” to most New Yorkers.

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. 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, Mike Bloomberg came along and took control of the schools. 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 Duffy selection is to examine whom Cuomo did not appoint. Spitzer thought it sent a good message to appoint someone of color to the number two job. That’s how we got 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.

Cuomo has made it plain that a big part of our budget 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. My bet is that Duffy will 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 one up for team Cuomo.


Alan S. Chartock is president and CEO of WAMC/Northeast Public Radio and an executive publisher at The Legislative Gazette.

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