- Associated Press - Saturday, September 6, 2014

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - The race for lieutenant governor has emerged as the best chance for critics of Gov. Andrew Cuomo to weaken his grip on power.

The position of lieutenant governor can be a sleepy one, a place for ribbon cutters and a way to balance out a gubernatorial ticket. But Tuesday’s matchup between Tim Wu and Kathy Hochul has focused attention on a race that’s often a political afterthought.

“This is the most interesting statewide primary by far, just because of the potential impact,” said Doug Muzzio, a political science professor at Baruch College.

Wu is an unabashed Cuomo critic, a Columbia University law professor known for coining the term net neutrality. He’s the running mate of Zephyr Teachout, who is hoping to oust Cuomo in the Democratic primary. Hochul is a former Buffalo congresswoman and bank executive who was picked by Cuomo to succeed the retiring Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy.

Candidates for lieutenant governor run on their own on primary ballots, meaning that if Wu beats Hochul, he could join Cuomo on the Democratic ticket in the November election. Polls show Cuomo is likely to win a second term, but Hochul isn’t as well-known.



Wu criticizes Hochul’s record in Congress, saying her views on guns, the environment and health care make her too conservative for many in New York. He said she’s only adopted a more liberal stance since becoming Cuomo’s running mate.

Hochul was endorsed by gun rights groups during her U.S. House campaigns, but she says she supports the state’s new gun control law and notes that she backed abortion rights and the federal health care law despite political pressure in her conservative district.

She’s also vowed to push for a higher minimum wage and the Dream Act, which would extend financial aid to students in the country illegally. This past week, she picked up the endorsement of one of the state’s leading liberals, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio.

“I had my record mischaracterized by the far right in my last election, so this is ironic,” she said of Wu’s attacks on her record. “Two years later I’m the same person. … I have always held true to progressive values my entire life.”

Hochul served one term in Congress before being defeated by Republican Chris Collins in 2012.

Wu, who also supports a higher minimum wage and the Dream Act, saw interest in his campaign surge after his endorsement by The New York Times. He has faulted Hochul and Cuomo for refusing to debate and for campaigning as if they face no primary opponent.

“All this running around the state, we should meet in person,” he said. “Pretending this primary is not happening is a mockery of the process.”

In addition to serving as the governor’s proxy, the lieutenant governor serves as president of the state Senate and can cast tie-breaking votes. And they take over if the governor resigns, which happened in 2008 when David Paterson succeeded Eliot Spitzer.

While it’s unusual for voters to elect a lieutenant governor who is at odds with the governor, it’s happened before: to Cuomo’s father. In 1982, Westchester County Executive Al DelBello was elected lieutenant governor under Gov. Mario Cuomo after beating Cuomo’s running mate in the primary. DelBello complained that Cuomo didn’t give him enough to do and resigned in 1985.

Tuesday’s result will have significant implications for Cuomo’s campaign, too. On the November ballot, Hochul could help Cuomo attract critical votes from women and western New York voters.

With turnout expected to be low, both sides are mounting last-minute efforts to get their supporters to the polls. Wu, whose father was from Taiwan, is counting on support from Asian-American voters, liberals and word-of-mouth support. Hochul has the backing of big labor unions and prominent Democrats including Hillary Clinton and Cuomo’s sophisticated political network.

“The lower the turnout, presumably the better for Wu,” Muzzio said. “You would presume his voters are more committed, more intense and therefore more likely to go out. One thing the Cuomo-Hochul folks have to worry about is the perception that it’s a lock for them and that people will stay home. They want to win, and win big.”

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