CHEEKTOWAGA -- Lieutenant governor candidate Robert Duffy told a crowd of about 300 supporters Sunday he will put upstate New York's interests "on the radar screen" if elected with running mate Andrew Cuomo in November.
The Rochester Mayor appeared at the Ukrainian Holy Trinity Orthodox Church's community center in Cheektowaga for his first Buffalo-area campaign stop since being added to the gubernatorial ticket in May.
"Upstate New York, and I've felt this way, sometimes has not been on the radar screen," Duffy said during his 10 minute speech. "We have to fight, fight, fight for the things that are important to us."
Hear Duffy's full speech:
Duffy listed the huge urban vacant housing stock and population decline as key problems plaguing the region. Part of the solution is lowering the cost of government and burden of taxes to attract businesses and jobs, he said.
"We have so many natural resources, we have so much talent in this region," he told The Buffalo News after his speech. "I think sometimes the government becomes more of an inhibitor as opposed to a facilitator."
And he had high praise for Cuomo, New York's attorney general, during what organizers called one of the campaign's first statewide events.
"I believe in my heart [Cuomo] is going to be a great governor," Duffy said. "He has executive experience at a federal level, at a state level. He's been a terrific attorney general."
On a sunny day likely scheduled with graduation parties, the crowd included some average voters there to hear Duffy out, such as members of the Cheektowaga Patriotic Commission, but leaned heavily toward people with a political background and local elected officials, including Erie County District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III, Ellicott Council Member Curtis Haynes Jr. and Assemblyman Sam Hoyt, D-Buffalo.
Niagara Falls Mayor Paul A. Dyster said he first met Duffy at a meeting of the United States Conference of Mayors and admired his grasp of the issues facing Upstate cities such as Buffalo, Niagara Falls and Rochester.
"It's great to think that our next lieutenant governor is going to be someone who understands what it feels like on a day-to-day basis to be a Western New Yorker — the pride that we feel and the good things here but also the frustrations we feel about the things we're having a hard time getting done," Dyster said.
Dyster said he also is impressed by Duff's up-from-the-ranks career in the Rochester Police Department and efforts to bring high-speed rail to the area.
But Duffy has been criticized by Republican opponents for collecting a police pension and his salary as mayor in a practice they called "double dipping," which Cuomo has crusaded against.
But Duffy responded by saying the only pension he will ever be paid is the one he earned during nearly 29 years on the police force.
"It is one pension, one pension only," he said. "It is not double-dipping. And I am proud of my service and what I did over my years to earn that."
Erie County Democratic Chairman Len Lenihan said the rally was held in Cheektowaga because the town is a bellwether for election outcomes.
"As goes Cheektowaga, so goes the county, so goes the state," he said.
Bob Brandon, vice chairman of the Cheektowaga Democratic Party, said the decision shows the campaign values Western New York.
"I think he made a point by starting in Cheektowaga and Erie County — that we're a very important part of the campaign," Brandon said.
Duffy was asked what a Cuomo/Duffy ticket in office could do to help upstate's woes. His response: