ALBANY, NY (WSKG) – New York Governor Kathy Hochul held her first public appearance with her choice of Lieutenant Governor, Brian Benjamin, who until this week, was a State Senator from Harlem.
Benjamin, 44, born to Caribbean immigrant parents, is a graduate of Brown University and Harvard Business School. Like Governor Hochul, he began in politics by holding local office while working as an investment banker, and eventually was elected to the state Senate in a special election in 2017.
The seat was once held by David Paterson, who left the Senate to become Lieutenant Governor, and later Governor, when former Governor Eliot Spitzer resigned in a sex scandal. Benjamin addressed a rally in Harlem.
“I never in a million years would have imagined I would be standing here as the lieutenant governor of the state of New York,” Benjamin said, to cheers. “But God has bigger plans for me.”
Benjamin is a strong criminal justice reform advocate, and he co-sponsored bills to end most forms of cash bail and strictly limit solitary confinement in state prisons, among other measures. He’s also a backer of the so-called defund the police movement, which advocates for shifting resources away from police and into social services when dealing with drug addiction, the mentally ill, and the homeless. He says he will help Hochul with the state’s major challenges, including fighting the spreading COVID-19 delta variant.
“We have so many fights that we have to wage, gun violence in our community,” said Benjamin, who said homelessness and affordable housing are also “massive problems”.
“We just thought we were getting out of Covid,” said Benjamin. “And here we are, we’ve got to put the mask back on.”
The rally also featured remarks by the Reverend Al Sharpton and NAACP President Hazel Dukes, who former Governor Andrew Cuomo called his “second mother”. Dukes publicly split with Cuomo after the Attorney General’s report on August 3rd found he sexually harassed 11 women. Cuomo resigned August 23rd.
Hochul, who claimed Dukes for herself, calling the NAACP leader her “mom on earth” , says she’s no stranger to Harlem and the needs of its residents. She’s pledged a renewed push to get more New Yorkers vaccinated. Black New Yorkers have been vaccinated at significantly lower rates than white New Yorkers.
“Let’s take those vaccination members and put them through the roof,” Hochul urged the crowd. “Let’s start saving lives.”
Hochul, who is from Buffalo, says she wants to seek election as governor in 2022. The choice of an African-American from downstate as a running mate would help balance out the ticket.
The choice of Benjamin as Lieutenant Governor was praised by progressive groups. Citizen Action, in a statement says it’s chance to “push forward a people’s agenda that benefits the many and not only the wealthy and well-connected”.
But the appointment received blowback from the state’s Conservative Party, which said in a statement that Hochul is “declaring war on police funding”, and making a “political calculation “ to cater to the party’s left.
Though Benjamin was announced as lieutenant governor today, he won’t be officially sworn in until after Labor Day, so that a special election for his Senate seat can coincide with the scheduled November elections. Hochul says she wants to save the taxpayers money by not holding a separate vote.