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