ALBANY — Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy’s decision this week not to seek reelection leaves both Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Republican challenger Rob Astorino searching for a running mate. Both will have to move fast: The state Republican Party will nominate its preferred candidate beginning Wednesday, with the Democrats following the week after. Astorino, the Westchester County executive, and Cuomo are both looking for a candidate that can be an effective surrogate on the campaign trail while appealing to voters they may have difficulty reaching otherwise.
But whom they pick likely will have little impact on the race itself, according to Siena College pollster Steve Greenberg.
“Virtually none,” he said. “People vote for governor. It’s not like you get a separate vote for lieutenant governor. They run as a ticket, and people vote for a governor.”
The lieutenant governor position is one that has both attracted and frustrated rising political figures in New York. It carries the allure of a statewide position, but comes with few official responsibilities.
In a letter to Cuomo earlier this week, Duffy cited the frequent travel as one reason for stepping down. Duffy, who suffers from back and leg pain, traveled to all corners of the state since taking office in 2011, often to represent Cuomo’s administration at various events.
Neither Cuomo nor Astorino have publicly signaled whom they are considering, though there has been speculation. Astorino, for example, attended a fundraiser for Dutchess County Executive Marcus Molinaro on Thursday. Molinaro, also a Republican, was mentioned as a possible gubernatorial candidate by state GOP Chairman Ed Cox last year. Neither Astorino nor Molinaro on Friday would address whether Molinaro is under consideration.
“Respecting their selection process, I’m just not able to comment at this time,” Molinaro said in a text message. Astorino’s campaign has been careful to avoid discussing specific candidates that are being vetted. But in a radio interview earlier this week, Astorino did acknowledge considering Michael Battle, a former U.S. Attorney from the Buffalo area.
Battle, however, did not meet the state’s minimum residency requirement, Astorino said on Albany’s WGDJ-AM. In order to be governor or lieutenant governor, a candidate must have been a resident of New York for the five years preceding the election. Battle worked at a Washington D.C. law firm after working for President George W. Bush’s administration.
Other Republicans have been approached by Astorino or members of the state GOP, but have declined. Among them are Assemblywoman Jane Corwin, R-Clarence, Erie County and Rensselaer County Executive Kathleen Jimino.
When it comes to Cuomo’s decision, several potential candidates are from the western New York area, including Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown and former Rep. Kathy Hochul, D-Williamsville, Erie County.
In a statement, Brown said he has a “very good relationship” with both Cuomo and Duffy.
“Ultimately any decision regarding the next lieutenant governor will be made by the governor,” Brown said.
Cuomo also could have several potential candidates within his administration. Among those currently heading state agencies for Cuomo are former Syracuse Mayor Matt Driscoll, former Utica- area Assemblywoman RoAnn Destito and Cesar Perales, a one-time deputy mayor of New York City.
The vetting process for potential lieutenant governor candidates is important. If the running mate becomes embroiled in scandal, Greenberg said, it could have a significant negative impact on the gubernatorial candidate. “Could that have a negative impact? Absolutely, because it reflects on the gubernatorial candidate as having made a particularly unwise choice,” he said. “And if the candidate makes an unwise choice there, who knows what kind of unwise choice they would make as governor.”