The state’s lieutenant governor, Robert Duffy, spoke at a police memorial service this week, in what will be one of his last official acts in his role before Governor Andrew Cuomo announces a new running mate for the 2014 elections. As Karen DeWitt reports, Duffy, who’s publicly been Cuomo’s biggest cheerleader, privately may have become disenchanted with the job as New York’s number two elected official.
The most public role of Lieutenant Governor Robert Duffy, the former police chief and Mayor of Rochester, has been to introduce Governor Andrew Cuomo at events. Duffy has performed that task to the fullest, often bestowing lavish praise on the governor, as at this event last October to focus on storm preparation.
“This man has provided outstanding leadership,” Duffy said.
Duffy at one point even called Cuomo the “Picasso” of politics. In recent months, though, the Lieutenant Governor, perhaps sensitive to criticism, has toned down the rhetoric, but at that same event last fall he defended his role as chief cheerleader.
“I often get accused of being cheerleader,” Duffy said “Well, I cheerlead out of pride for what this man has done for the state.”
Duffy has also traveled the state to promote the governor’s policies. He was in Watertown in January to plug Cuomo’s property tax rebate plan, and Elmira in March. He also spoke at events that the governor either could not, or did not, want to attend, including the annual meeting of county leaders, and the inauguration of the new Mayor of Albany, the annual police officers memorial, where 20 officers who died in the line of duty were honored.
Unlike the governor, though, the lieutenant governor does not have planes or helicopters at his disposal, and Duffy makes the trips by car. The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle has reported that the long rides aggravated Duffy’s bad back, and he spent much of his time in pain.
That could be one of the reasons that the lieutenant governor in 2013 applied for a new job, as head of a Rochester business group. Rochester Business Alliance President Sandy Parker said that she would be retiring at the end of the year. The news that Duffy was seeking the job came a few months after he purchased a home in the Finger Lakes directly from Parker, without using a realtor. The two have said the occurrences are not related.
The speculation about the real estate deal and the lieutenant governor’s political future led to a rare, testy exchange with reporters at the State Fair in Syracuse last summer, where Duffy was once again filling in for Cuomo. Duffy denied that the sale of the half million dollar property was a “sweet heart” deal.
“I in no way have any qualms whatsoever about something my wife and I did that was something totally above board, totally ethical ,” Duffy said. “The one thing I did not do, I did not hold press conference, nor should I ever think I would have to.”
Unlike previous lieutenant governors, Duffy seldom grants interviews or speaks beyond prepared remarks.
He did eventually with draw his name from consideration for the Business Alliance job. But Parker has now decided to stay until the end of 2014, leaving a job opening in January of 2015. It’s likley that Duffy will no longer be Lieutenant Governor by then. Now, when Duffy attends public events in lieu of Governor Cuomo, he’s pressed by reporters questioning whether he will be on the ticket. In Rochester a few days ago, he did not rule it out, but he most certainly did not rule it in, but says he expects an announcement “soon”.
“I don’t want to get out in front of the governor,” said Duffy, who said he’ll be happy to answer questions once the announcement is made.
Duffy has served as chair of the state’s regional economic development councils, which receive monetary grants from Governor Cuomo to carry out coordinated projects. But in a break with past tradition, he’s never been given a project or area of policy to call his own.
Governor Cuomo, following Duffy’s flirtation with the business association job last fall, was quick to heap his own praise on the man he chose as a running mate in 2010, and credit Duffy for his statewide travels.
“He is the hardest working and most effective member of my administration,” Cuomo said. “Nobody works like the lieutenant governor.”
But lately Cuomo has said nothing about Duffy or his political future, saying he prefers to focus on governing until the political season officially begins. The state Democratic Party nominating convention begins May 21st.