New York Gov. Kathy Hochul is set to name State Sen. Brian Benjamin of Manhattan as her next lieutenant governor, according to various reports. He will be the second Black man to hold the job, making his new role an especially history-making one because Hochul is New York state’s first top female chief executive.
A Harlem politico and former candidate for New York City comptroller, Benjamin provides geographic balance for a potential statewide ticket in 2022 as Hochul pursues a full four-year term. He has also been a powerful voice in the legislature for criminal justice reform, including overhauling New York state bail laws.
Hochul became governor on Tuesday after Andrew Cuomo was forced to resign after being accused of sexually harassing 11 women during his tenure as governor. She is expected to officially name Benjamin as lieutenant governor on Thursday.
Benjamin will likely be given the task of promoting Hochul’s policies in New York City, where she must do very well to be competitive during next year’s Democratic primary. Jumaane Williams, the city’s public advocate, said he is actively exploring a run for governor. Letitia James, the state attorney general, is widely seen as a top candidate, but she has not said anything about a gubernatorial run.
To be clear, per the New York Daily News, Hochul and Benjamin will run separately and residents will vote for each candidate separately during the 2022 election. Both are finishing up the respective terms they are filling in for until then. This selection of Benjamin is largely being seen as a tactical move to form a combo ticket that shows Hochul is serious about diversity, criminal justice and eager to get downstate—mainly New York City—votes.
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According to the New York Times, Benjamin graduated from Brown University and Harvard University and worked at Morgan Stanley. He was also a managing partner at Genesis Companies, a real estate firm that focused on affordable housing, before entering politics. He ran for state senate in 2017, after Bill Perkins won a seat in the City Council. Benjamin was the Democratic Party’s pick for the vacated seat after a convention vote; he went on to easily defeat the GOP opponent and assumed office that June.
Here is more on Benjamin’s background, per the Times:
As a senator, Mr. Benjamin has backed efforts to close Rikers Island and supported legislation on a range of criminal justice issues, from ending cash bail and reforming discovery to ending solitary confinement and reforming parole laws.
He has also sponsored bills to get banks to divest from private for-profit prisons and create a so-called “rainy day fund” that New York City could tap into during fiscal emergencies. Mr. Benjamin said earlier this year that he supported the defund the police movement.
Michael Blake, a former assemblyman from the Bronx who endorsed Mr. Benjamin in the comptroller primary, stressed that he should be recognized for his skills and experience, not just how his race and standing among Black voters could aid Ms. Hochul politically.
“I think it’s important to realize that Brian is talented, and he is also Black,” Mr. Blake said.
“People are always paying attention to talent even when there is no success,” Mr. Blake added. “He ran for city comptroller — I think he was the most qualified — and lost, but at the end of the day, God had bigger plans for him.”
The competitive Democratic primary for comptroller included Corey Johnson, the speaker of the City Council, and Councilman Brad Lander, who emerged victorious as the standard-bearer of the party’s left flank. Mr. Benjamin finished fourth, behind Michelle Caruso-Cabrera, a former CNBC anchor.
During the primary, Mr. Benjamin’s campaign relinquished nearly two dozen donations after The City raised questions about their authenticity.
Mr. Benjamin’s poor showing in the primary could raise questions about how many votes from New York City he could help Ms. Hochul attract as a running mate, especially if the governor faces a primary challenge from a person of color.
Though the lieutenant governor’s gig is ill-defined in the state’s Constitution, the person holding the role can preside over the state Senate and can cast tie-breaking votes in limited circumstances.
NY1 reports that Hochul can pick her own lieutenant governor after a 2009 court ruling solidified the power of the governor to fill a vacancy in the lt. governor’s office.