Robert Duffy, Courtesy: Rochester Democrat and Chronicle
By Joseph Spector
Albany Bureau Chief
ALBANY- Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy said Wednesday that it would be premature to discuss whether he will seek re-election with Gov. Andrew Cuomo next year, saying his political plans will be discussed "at the appropriate time next year."
In a two-paragraph statement obtained by Gannett's Albany Bureau, Duffy didn't vow to run with Cuomo next year and said any talk about his political future would interfere with governing.
The statement comes as speculation continues that Duffy, the former Rochester mayor, may leave the Cuomo administration to head the Rochester Business Alliance.
"I have been asked if I plan to run for re-election next year. Obviously if I ran it would be with Governor Cuomo. The governor has not announced his plans for next year and therefore discussion of my role is premature," Duffy said in the statement.
"The governor and I both feel strongly that political discussions can interfere with our governing and we have much more important work to do before next year's political calendar commences," the statement continued. "The governor and I have developed a great working relationship as well as a deep personal friendship over these past three years and our administration is performing well and still getting stronger. We will discuss our future political plans at the appropriate time next year."
Last week, Duffy declined comment on whether he was leaving for the business alliance job, saying he has heard the same rumors. Cuomo also didn't offer a direct answer last week when he was asked about Duffy's future.
Cuomo tapped Duffy as his running mate in 2010, and Duffy resigned as Rochester mayor when they took office in 2011.
Duffy, 59, has been traveling the state on Cuomo's behalf, and he heads the 10 regional economic development councils.
But Duffy could make about $200,000 a year more if he left for the business alliance job. The retiring president, Sandy Parker, earned nearly $308,000 in 2010, plus nearly $67,000 in additional compensation, according to the group's income tax forms.
Duffy recently bought a lakefront home in the Finger Lakes from Parker for $527,000.
Duffy gets a $70,000-a-year pension for his years as a Rochester police officer, which included time as chief, and a $151,500 salary as lieutenant governor.
Duffy could be limited in how much he could try to influence policy at the state Capitol if he left for the Rochester Business Alliance, which is the region's chamber of commerce.
The group has taken strong stances aimed at improving the business climate in New York, and annually works with area groups to push an agenda for the region in Albany. Parker is also a leader on the Finger Lakes regional council.
But state ethics laws could bar him from appearing before a state agency for two years, and it could also bar him for life from working on the same issues as he worked on while in state service, government watchdog officials said.
"It's all sort of murky, and for an administration that prides itself ostensibly on the highest ethical standards, presumably, the lieutenant governor, if he left, would bend over backwards to adhere to both the letter and the spirit of the law," said Blair Horner, legislative director for the New York Public Interest Research Group.
David Grandeau, the former director of the state Lobbying Commission, said even if Duffy were interviewing for the position, he would have needed to notify Cuomo and ensure there were no conflicts of interest currently. The state Joint Commission on Public Ethics could look into the matter, or Duffy could seek an advisory opinion from it. A JCOPE spokesman declined comment on any possible review.
"You're not supposed to be working on anything with them at this point until it concludes," Grandeau said of a state official and a potential employer. "But that had to have happened already if he's had conversations."
The Business Alliance has declined comment on who it has interviewed for the position.
Mark Glaser, an Albany-area attorney who has worked on ethics cases, said it's unclear whether an elected official in the executive branch would face the same ethics limitations as other state employees. The law may be vague, he said.
"The applications of these laws are extremely fact specific to what did you do and what exactly you want to do," Glaser said.