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ALBANY - Is Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo scouting for a new running mate for next year's election?
That has been the speculation for some weeks now, and Cuomo did nothing on Thursday to put an end to the chatter that his most vocal supporter, Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy, might not be on the ticket with him next year.
There has been growing talk among lawmakers and lobbyists that Duffy, who has spent more time than anyone publicly praising Cuomo, is angling to become the next head of the Rochester Business Alliance, a business trade group. The group's longtime leader, Sandra Parker, a friend of Duffy, is leaving the organization; Duffy is the former mayor and police chief of Rochester.
In Rochester Wednesday, Duffy declined to directly answer questions about whether he might be leaving Cuomo to head the business group.
In Utica Thursday, Cuomo was asked about the speculation and uncharacteristically declined to shoot it down.
"I think the lieutenant governor has said we're going to leave the politics to next year," he said, according to an audio recording of the event. "That's when we talk politics and we talk campaigns. We're talking about governing now and that's what we want to focus on."
Pressed, Cuomo responded: "He's done a fantastic job as lieutenant governor, but I don't want to get into the politics this year. That's next year."
In 2010, Cuomo turned to Duffy to help him lure upstate voters.
Affable and smart, Duffy is often described by Albany observers as Cuomo's cheerleader for the many times he introduces the governor at events with long, glowing praise.
But Duffy also has been involved in some sticky situations, including talks last year that led to a stadium lease deal to keep the Buffalo Bills from leaving for at least the next seven years. He also was called in to try to calm tensions after the Cuomo administration created a public dust-up with Canada over Peace Bridge construction plans.
Why Duffy would leave is uncertain, though Cuomo is known as a demanding boss. His agriculture commissioner, Darrel Aubertine, just quit this week to take a job with state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, who has a cool to cold relationship with Cuomo.
As for a potential replacement for Duffy, Democrats already have privately wondered whether Cuomo might turn to a woman or a member of a minority group as he both tries to get re-elected next year and keep his name in the mix for possible 2016 White House contenders. Speculation already has started that he might pick someone with a residence even farther west than Rochester. Cuomo lost all Western New York counties in 2010 and he has spent considerable time holding official events in the region this year compared with his previous two years in office.