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When Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Lt. Gov. Robert J. Duffy declined last week to address the second-in-command’s future on the 2014 statewide ticket, it was almost like shouting, “Let the speculation games begin.”

So amid reports that the popular former Rochester mayor might return home to head the Rochester Business Alliance, political observers are already floating names like Mayor Byron W. Brown, former Rep. Kathleen C. Hochul, or Leecia R. Eve, a former Cuomo administration official – should the governor choose to concentrate on the Buffalo area.

All are seen as strong, proven or potential vote-getters in Western New York, the one region of the state the Cuomo-Duffy team failed to carry in 2010. The aim, say those playing the guessing game, is to find a running mate to not only strengthen the top of the ticket, but also secure a smashing victory and bolster Cuomo’s possible presidential bid.

Hank Sheinkopf, a veteran Democratic political consultant from Manhattan, said Cuomo has already demonstrated attention to upstate with his 2010 choice of Duffy, and would be wise to repeat if the current lieutenant governor leaves.

“It would still tell everybody north of the Orange County line that upstate New York matters to the governor,” he said, “and doing well in the entire state makes him a potential presidential candidate who can win in urban, suburban and ex-urban areas.”

Some questions already dominating political conversations throughout the state include:

• Will Cuomo’s next running mate hail from Western New York? (Brown might be thinking about life after City Hall.)

• Should the governor select a woman? Or a minority? (Remember, we’re ultimately talking presidential bid here.)

• Would Cuomo surprise everyone and dip into the world of business, education, law or the judiciary? (Gov. George E. Pataki’s two running mates – Betsy McCaughey and Mary O. Donahue – stemmed from academia and the bench.)

• Might he select someone eager for the top position themselves, especially since many feel the governor could some day leave Albany for Washington? (We don’t have room to list them all.)

• And is speculation just a waste of time? Is Duffy not going anywhere? (Might very well be.)

Duffy appeared to have quashed questions about his future in late August when Cuomo’s office released a statement indicating all was secure for the current lieutenant governor.

“The governor and I have the same plans,” Duffy said in a statement at the time. “We plan to seek re-election and will formally announce it at the appropriate time.”

But since then it has been revealed Duffy bought a three-bedroom house on Keuka Lake just south of Penn Yan for $527,000 from Sandy Parker, who is creating a vacancy as head of the Rochester Business Alliance through her impending retirement. And while in Rochester last week, the lieutenant governor evaded further questions about his future.

In Utica on Thursday, Cuomo was asked about the speculation and did not dismiss it.

“I think the lieutenant governor has said we’re going to leave the politics to next year,” he said. “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.”

As a result, Democrats everywhere want no part of even acknowledging the subject. While Cuomo and Duffy delay and downplay any speculation, few others will publicly (or even privately) deviate from the rules of this game set at the top.

But Democrat Stan Lundine of Jamestown, who knows a thing or two about the post after eight years as lieutenant governor under former Gov. Mario M. Cuomo, said the choice of Duffy proved more than successful and another upstater would fit the bill again. He said if Duffy does leave, he believes it would stem from his own choice and not Cuomo’s.

“I would hope the governor would think very seriously about upstate people,” Lundine said. “I think that Gov. Cuomo did a great job in selecting [Duffy] and that he should again look for that kind of person.

“Frankly, I don’t think the choice of lieutenant governor makes much difference,” he added. “But I do think it’s important to have balance ... and Western New York would make the most sense to me.”

Many engaged in the speculation game assign positives to Brown, fresh off an overwhelming primary victory and heavily favored to win a third term next month. Erie County GOP Chairman Nicholas A. Langworthy said if he were a sitting governor looking to fill the second spot, he too would look west toward Buffalo.

“The mayor would be an attractive option for him if he is shopping for a lieutenant governor,” Langworthy said. “I don’t pretend to have an insight into the governor’s thinking, but he sure seems to be obsessed with Buffalo. And putting an upstate African-American on the ticket can’t do anything but help the governor,” he added.

Brown, a former state senator, is thought to have been included on Cuomo’s 2010 short list, bringing labels such as minority, upstate and Albany experience – all seen as “balance” in a process dominated by New York City.

One local Democrat who asked not to be identified noted a strong relationship between Brown and Cuomo, and the brimming campaign treasury the mayor might bring to next year’s contest as well.

Hochul, meanwhile, emerged as Washington’s Democratic darling in 2011 by winning a special election for Congress in an overwhelmingly Republican district. And she came as close as any Democrat could dream when she barely lost her re-election bid to Republican Chris Collins.

Since then the former congresswoman, county clerk and Hamburg councilwoman has moved into the City of Buffalo and signed on as vice president of government relations for M&T Bank, allowing her to maintain a high profile at least among government and political types.

And Eve is already more than familiar with Cuomo’s executive chamber, having served as deputy secretary of economic development before leaving to become Verizon’s vice president for government affairs.

No stranger to Democratic politics as the daughter of former Deputy Assembly Speaker Arthur O. Eve, she has become a player in her own right. The Harvard Law School graduate served as an aide to Sens. Joseph R. Biden and Hillary Rodham Clinton, and launched a serious effort to win Eliot L. Spitzer’s nod as his 2006 running mate before he eventually settled on David A. Paterson.

State campaign finance records indicate Eve maintains an account from that race with more than $71,000 on hand. She is viewed as experienced and well connected to many in New York City’s Democratic hierarchy.

Some familiar with the pair say Hochul and Eve might have to take a pay cut to serve in the state’s No. 2 post.

Others point out Cuomo might look toward Central New York, with a few observers even suggesting a Republican like Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney, who has crossed party lines before.

Still, experts such as political scientist Michael V. Haselswerdt of Canisius College point out Cuomo and only Cuomo will serve as the star of the show next year. He said it would be good for the governor to choose another upstater should he have to in 2014, but the state’s demographics dictate he could pick a resident of the five boroughs and still do well throughout the state.

“Cuomo does not need someone from upstate to replace him, but I suspect he will,” Haselswerdt said, adding he sees the post as a dead end for someone like Brown.

“It’s sort of a thankless job, and you can make a lot more money doing something else,” he said. “And nobody votes for lieutenant governor.”

email: rmccarthy@buffnews.com