Hochul announced Thursday that she would be tapping state Sen. Brian Benjamin, who represents a number of Manhattan neighborhoods including Harlem, for the role of lieutenant governor. Benjamin is the third big pick to recently join the Hochul administration.
Gov. Kathy Hochul announced that she would be tapping state Sen. Brian Benjamin, who represents a number of Manhattan neighborhoods including Harlem, for the role of lieutenant governor—the state’s second-in-command.
“I am so delighted to announce my partner,” Hochul said from Harlem, where she was introduced by the Rev. Al Sharpton, before outlining her new administration’s immediate priorities, which include further stemming the spread of COVID-19 and rent relief for New Yorkers who have fallen behind on payments.
“This individual is someone who’s been through the trenches, starting locally, working on his community board, working his way up to elected office, someone I’ve become a dear friend of in the Senate,” Hochul added, introducing Benjamin. “He has been a champion of criminal justice reform, affordable housing and tenant protections—three huge priorities of mine as well.”
A triumphant Benjamin took the stage chanting “What a day, what a day!” and drew loud applause from the crowd, as the Jay-Z song “New York State of Mind” played.
“Governor Hochul, I will do everything I can to make sure that we deliver for the state of New York,” Benjamin said. “I’ve got very big shoes to fill, because there has been no lieutenant governor who has travelled this state, all 62 counties, working hard. There is no one more ready to be governor right now than Lieutenant Governor—I’m sorry—Governor Kathy Hochul.”
The senator’s selection as lieutenant governor means his current seat representing the Senate’s 30th District, which includes large swaths of Harlem, Sugar Hill and the part of the Upper West Side, will be up for grabs.
Benjamin will be sworn in after Labor Day, Hochul said, “to make sure that we can have the special election for your soon-to-be vacant seat coincide with the November election, to save taxpayer dollars.”
The lieutenant governor post, one Hochul held for two four-year terms before her historic ascension to governor this week, is largely a ceremonial one. Lieutenant governors, in addition to being the state’s second-in-command, serve as president of the state Senate.
Earlier this month, Hochul, who is white, expressed a desire to find a running mate who would bring racial diversity to the office, saying she was “cognizant of the need for diversity, and an inclusive ticket.”
Benjamin, who is Black, was elected to the state senate in 2017, replacing Bill Perkins, who became a member of the City Council.
Hochul, originally from Buffalo, is likely trying to raise her profile with downstate and black voters ahead of next year’s gubernatorial election.
Benjamin, who ran unsuccessfully for comptroller in the primary this year, represents some of the Manhattan neighborhoods most battered by the pandemic. Black New Yorkers also saw a higher-than-average death rate from the pandemic.
A number of city advocates and organizers reacted positively to Benjamin’s appointment, seeing it as a signal that they might see movement soon on some of their causes and legislative priorities in Albany. Center for Community Alternatives, for example, released a statement noting Benjamin’s past support for legislation like the Clean Slate Act, which would automatically expunge the records of New Yorkers with criminal backgrounds who’ve already served their time, and another bill that would mandate parole hearings for certain people in prison 55 and over.
“In his new role as Lieutenant Governor, we call on him to stand with Black, brown and low-income New Yorkers and fight to ensure that these bills—nearly passed at the end of the 2021 legislative session—make it over the finish line,” the group’s lead organizer, Marvin Mayfield, said in a statement Thursday. “Now is the time to address decades of mass incarceration, end perpetual punishment and stop the criminalization of poverty.”
The New York Building Congress, which lobbies on behalf of the state’s construction industry, called Benjamin a “strong partner in Albany—especially on delivering budgets that invested in the future of New York’s infrastructure.”
Hochul replaces former Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who resigned at the start of the week in the wake of sexual harassment and assault allegations. She said she will be assembling her administration over her first 45 days.
“It’s a shorter than normal transition period,” the new governor said during an appearance on CBS This Morning Wednesday. “But I’m going to attract the best and the brightest. That is my goal, and people who also share my values of working hard for the people of this state, letting them know they can trust the government.”
Hochul’s website notes that the governor is now hiring, and advises potential applicants to send in their resumes and a cover letter.