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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

New race, new lieutenant governor

New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo is shown

New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo is shown in this file photo. (Jan. 17, 2012) Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams, Jr.

On most days a lieutenant governor plays the same role in New York politics that Paul Shaffer, Robin Quivers or the late Ed McMahon performed during their show-business careers -- serving as onstage sidekick to the star player.

Early on, Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy became known in Albany for his lengthy gushes of praise when presenting or standing in for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in public. From one gathering to the next, Duffy would unabashedly hail the "extraordinary," "terrific" or "superb" job Cuomo was doing.

Now Duffy moves on, and leaves the day-to-day hornblowing to others.

Picking a new running mate can be a conflicted process for a gubernatorial candidate. Any top pol wants an ally who could carry on in his absence, but also, there's a desire to broaden appeal by adding "balance" to a ticket. Duffy, from Rochester, was the only upstater on the 2010 Democratic statewide ballot.

Maybe the difficulty of the choice had something to do with Cuomo and aides clamping down on information so tightly in hours leading up to the state Democratic convention in Melville, which opens in earnest Wednesday. Or maybe they just wanted to build suspense.

Last week Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, the GOP candidate for governor, picked as his running mate Chemung County Sheriff Chris Moss. That makes Moss the first African-American nominee on a statewide Republican ticket.

"Obviously, I diversify the ticket," Moss said last week -- adding that he's ready to be governor if necessary. "Any leader, whether in the private sector or the public sector, if you surround yourself with qualified people, you can lead successfully."

When Lt. Gov. David Paterson suddenly became governor in 2008, it led to anxiety over whether the Senate majority leader, next in line of succession, could step in if Paterson vacated the top office -- at a time when control of the Senate position was in dispute.

So the potential mess created by a sudden succession was still fresh in mind in 2010 when Democrat Cuomo tapped Duffy, a former Rochester mayor and police commissioner, who could be presented as fiscally responsible and pro law enforcement.

Sentiments swirling around this election may vary from those of four years ago -- and not just on the matter of an LG.

Last time, Cuomo ran in the wake of surprise off-year state and local GOP victories by Astorino, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano and others. Tax caps, middle-class tax reductions, and hard bargaining with public employees made sense for Cuomo to tout in that political context.

But Cuomo's current re-election campaign follows last November's recapture of New York City government by liberal Democrats led by Mayor Bill de Blasio. Perhaps that reshapes political expectations, at least in the deep-blue city, about Cuomo's standing among some progressives, which could shift the way the governor markets himself.

New race, new running mate. What else might change?

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