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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

No. 2 spot on statewide ballot can be key

Tim Wu, center, a candidate for New York

Tim Wu, center, a candidate for New York State Lieutenant Governor, attends a news conference on the steps of Tweed Hall in Manhattan, Sept. 3, 2014. Credit: Charles Eckert

Fans of a subversive kind of political excitement may be rooting for little-known academician Tim Wu to somehow pull off an upset against former Rep. Kathy Hochul Tuesday in the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor.

If Wu wins -- and little-known academician Zephyr Teachout loses to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo -- you'd see the first "shotgun marriage" on a gubernatorial ticket since 1982, when Democratic primary voters chose Al Del Bello as Mario Cuomo's running mate.

The difference here is that Wu, unlike Del Bello (who stuck around for only two years), promises to be a dissident in the executive branch.

Few people with apolitical lives may realize it: Candidacies for governor and lieutenant governor are chosen separately in primaries, but run as a single candidacy once they reach the Election Day ballot, just like presidential and vice-presidential nominees.

This makes the No. 2 slot on the statewide ballot one wild card of a position.

When the leading major-party candidate picks a running mate for lieutenant governor, the traditional concept of ticket "balance" kicks in. This is generally aimed at the general election.

So Westchester Executive Rob Astorino, the GOP nominee for governor without a primary opponent, picked Chris Moss, the veteran Chemung County sheriff and the only African-American on either statewide major-party ticket. Moss goes on the November ballot uncontested.

Incumbent Cuomo, also a Westchester resident, prefers Kathy Hochul, the former Buffalo-area U.S. House member and the only woman on either statewide major-party ticket, to succeed the departing Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy from Rochester.

Hochul in 2011 succeeded a Republican in her Western New York congressional district -- where sensibilities on gun ownership and immigration differ from those you'd find among left-leaning New York City Democrats.

Neophyte Wu's recent critique of Hochul as too GOP-friendly sounds similar to the early complaints by some Democrats in 2009 when then-Gov. David A. Paterson chose then-Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand to succeed Hillary Clinton as New York's junior U.S. senator.

Gillibrand's positions on guns and immigration -- she too was in Congress from a competitive upstate House district -- led to a similar push by backers to prove her "progressive" credentials.

In that vein, Hochul stood this week with Democratic New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and said, "We are united in our commitment to fight for a progressive agenda in Albany and for New York State."

Sometimes a governor's relationship with even his preferred choice for lieutenant governor sours -- notably, Gov. George Pataki's first-term alienation from Lt. Gov. Betsy McCaughey, who was replaced in his second-term run by Mary Donohue.

The past six years have seen more concern over the lieutenant governor job than before. Lt. Gov. David Paterson suddenly succeeded Eliot Spitzer as governor in 2008; by 2009, the state Senate fell into partisan chaos. With no lieutenant governor in place to succeed him if he vacated the office, Paterson appointed Richard Ravitch as his lieutenant governor and the court deemed it valid.

All of which means that whether they've heard of Hochul or Wu or both or neither, Democrats on Tuesday will be collectively deciding a potentially key nominee.

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