Who is state Sen. Brian Benjamin, NY's apparent new lieutenant governor?
Gov. Kathy Hochul is expected to announce the appointment of Harlem state Sen. Brian Benjamin as her lieutenant governor Thursday afternoon at 1 p.m. WBFO will provide live coverage of her announcement, on-air and online.
David Lombardo, host of The Capitol Pressroom, predicted the choice and talked with WBFO's Howard Riedel Thursday morning about the new partnership. Listen for more Capitol Pressroom weeknights at 8 p.m. on WBFO.
HR: Gov. Kathy Hochul is expected to announce the appointment of Harlem state Sen. Brian Benjamin as her lieutenant governor today. Joining us this morning to talk about that choice is David Lombardo, host of The Capitol Pressroom, 8 p.m. weeknights on WBFO. We'll give your show a plug — and one for you. I'm told you predicted this would be her choice.
DL: Yeah. Last week, one of my colleagues floated in a formal poll on Twitter about who Kathy Hochul might choose and Brian Benjamin was really down to a short list of candidates. There was a another state senator from the Bronx, Assembly Democrat from Brooklyn and the former Bronx borough president. And to me, Brian Benjamin just made the most sense. And you know, without putting anything behind it, I just predicted Benjamin, so yeah, I'm cashing in my winnings today.
HR: Very good. Now, other than being a downstater, was there any particular reason that Hochul came to pick him? Does she have any kind of background with him?
DL: No, they don't have any significant relationship, really. Benjamin, who's been in the state Senate for about four years, has a record of working on criminal justice issues. He also is a person of color. And I think those two different attributes are things that she's looking for as she plans her political future. Because the lieutenant governor's post is mostly a ceremonial one, except for the political aspect of it. You know, she's going to run as a ticket eventually, in November, potentially 2022, with whoever she chooses. And I think as a white upstate Democrat, who has a more conservative core these days, she's looking to shore up her liberal core a few days, especially with people of color in New York City area.
HR: Which faction of the Democratic Party will be happier about this?
DL: So yeah, I mean, this is a bone that she's throwing to the progressives in the party. I mean, if she really wanted to go all out, she could have gone with a democratic socialist, but I think she wanted to pick somebody who would shore up those progressives, those liberal voters who might be a little uneasy with her based on her track record as a county clerk or as a member of Congress, but while still picking someone who she's comfortable with. Because at the end of the day, she's not a firebrand liberal. She describes herself as a Biden Democrat. So I think he kind of bridges that gap for her.
HR: Now, you mentioned the somewhat limited and ceremonial role of the lieutenant governor when Hochul occupied that post. She seemed kind of excluded from Cuomo's inner circle. What do you think her relationship with Benjamin will be like?
DL: Well, she talks about having a relationship akin to what Joe Biden and Kamala Harris has on the federal level. But I think a lot of chief executives talk a big game about the role they want their number two to have prior to taking office. And I question what in reality he will actually be tasked with. I think he's going to get the same sort of ceremonial duties. There's going to be her representative around the state. I think he might get to lead task force and blue ribbon commissions. I think he'll continue to serve as the ceremonial leader of the state Senate from time to time, a job he's actually had as a state senator. But I don't imagine he's going to the influencing policy, demonstrably, or necessarily have any significant policy portfolio. You might have a higher profile in terms of being more visible than Hochul, because Hochul is someone who's okay with sharing the stage. But I don't think he's necessarily going to be setting the direction of New York State in a meaningful way.
HR: If he did have any input, what do you think he would be advocating for?
DL: I think he would be kind of championing the same things he focused on in the legislature, which are criminal justice reforms. He was a big proponent of ending cash bail, something that the state took a big swing at in 2019. He's talked a lot about reforming police in New York, so he could theoretically be the front person for that. Already we've seen Republicans come out and attack him for being at least linked to the defund the police movement. So I think criminal justice is definitely something he's interested in. He ran for New York City comptroller, he has a background in finance, so it's possible he might look at some of those issues, but it's a little hard to tell where she's going to deploy him at this point.
HR: Now, we talked about why she picked him. We haven't talked about whether she had the ability to do that at all. I am told it is not really clear that she has that authority as governor.
DL: Yeah, it's really interesting history here because it dates back to 2009, when listeners might remember that there was the senate coup, which put New York State in complete chaos, and it happened at a time when Gov. Paterson, who had been the LG, did have his own lieutenant governor and there was some concern about who his successor might be. There was concern about whether this person will break a tie in the Senate. And it was what was plaguing them at the time. So he just took it upon himself to appoint a lieutenant governor. It got challenged the courts and the Court of Appeals upheld his decision, a decision that wasn't rooted in really any direct language, the state constitution. So it's based on that experience in the appointment of Dick Ravitch back in 2009 that now-Gov. Kathy Hochul is appointing her own lieutenant governor.