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In Choice of Running Mate, Cuomo Sends a Message to Unions

It was just 24 hours after the debut of the "New Democratic Party" signs up here at the site of the party's convention in Westchester. Attorney General Andrew Cuomo was in midtown making public the results of his first critical deliberation as a candidate for governor.

In choosing Rochester Mayor Robert Duffy as his running mate, Cuomo got a career cop who evidently turned around the city of Rochester by restoring public integrity, improving municipal services and cutting taxes. But that's not all.

During Duffy's introduction to the media, Cuomo and Duffy both offered a taste of the governing philosophy that informs their "New Democratic Party."

In Duffy, Cuomo has chosen a potential lieutenant governor who stands for strong executive authority, especially in education. Duffy has been trying to follow in the footsteps of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who's taken power from local school boards and put it in the mayor's office.

Duffy says such control is critical to improve schools.

"The lack of performance in our school system is unacceptable," he says, claiming that 70 percent of crimes in Rochester are committed by high school dropouts.

The head of the local teachers' union, which vehemently opposes Duffy's approach, told local TV that Duffy's move sharply divided the community. No doubt what the teachers, some parents and community members see as a mayoral power grab, Duffy and advocates for mayoral control, such as Bloomberg, see as ensuring accountability.

That drive for accountability is also expressed in Cuomo's support for lifting of the state's cap on charter schools. So on education, the "New Democrats" are aligning with President Barack ObamaEducation Secretary Arne Duncan, Bloomberg, Reverend Al Sharpton, and even New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in backing the expansion of charters.   

New York State Democratic Party Executive Director Charlie King said the national realignment in support of charters was seismic. As a top African-American Democratic leader, he was quick to put this drive for accountability and charter expansion as a major civil rights issue for communities of color that, he said, had been set back for decades by chronically underperforming public schools.

Are the teachers' unions now in the marginal political place the UAW found itself back when public opinion saw them as undermining Detroit? 

In the era of the Tea Party movement and anti-incumbent and anti-public-worker fervor, when it comes to posturing with public unions, New Democrats have studied New Jersey Republican Gov. Christie's playbook. They must like what they see. Christie has risen to rapid national prominence for "standing up" to the "bully" teachers' union.  

In introducing his running mate, Cuomo bragged about Duffy's ability to extract concessions from public workers.

"He was not a pushover. Yes, he tangled with public employee unions," Cuomo said. "Guess what? We are going to be tangling with public employee unions going forward."

Cuomo has pledged to consolidate and realign some 11,000 different entities in state and local government. That campaign promise will no doubt put pressure on public employee unions.

"New Democrat" Cuomo hasn't said if he'll seek support from the Working Families Party, which overlaps with the Democrats but is closely aligned with the state's labor unions. The WFP holds its state convention next month in Buffalo.

By contrast, Cuomo jumped at the chance to get the imprimatur of the New York State Independence Party.