Incoming Lieutenant Governor Brian Benjamin Will Have A Seat At The Table


Earlier this yr, Brian Benjamin misplaced the race for New York Metropolis comptroller in what was a jarring defeat. A state senator representing Harlem’s thirtieth District, and lengthy lively in progressive politics, Benjamin ran on a social justice platform that included divesting its public pensions from personal prisons and growing the variety of metropolis contracts to girls and minority-owned enterprise homeowners.

However round two months after his loss, he obtained a cellphone name from New York Governor Kathy Hochul on August twenty fourth, the day she was sworn into workplace. She requested him to be her lieutenant governor, a place she held herself for six years, although she was successfully marginalized by her predecessor, Andrew Cuomo.

“Governor Hochul stated to me when she first known as me, ‘I wish to have a collaborative authorities. I need you to be a companion with me within the trenches,’” Benjamin, who shall be sworn in on September ninth, recalled. “For me, as a result of I trusted her, I imagine in her. That was all I wanted.”

Learn Extra: What Does The Lieutenant Governor Of New York Do?

Now, the 44-year-old Benjamin is on the cusp of a uncommon and essential political alternative that places him one heartbeat away from turning into governor. Whereas his new position has lengthy been deemed ceremonial, being lieutenant governor can put one in a room of some influential gamers and function a springboard to run for future statewide positions.

“It is likely to be operating throughout the state, however you are additionally simply making connections and relationships on a stage {that a} state senator simply does not have,” Dr. Christina Greer, affiliate professor of political science and American research at Fordham College, stated. “And as we have seen prior to now, what? Two governors needed to step apart. So one by no means is aware of. It is like fortune favors the daring.”

Benjamin admits this can be a place he didn’t envision when he entered politics 4 years in the past. Again then, he had simply gained the particular election race to characterize Harlem, the identical neighborhood the place he was born, although he grew up in Brooklyn’s Starrett Metropolis and later Southeast Queens, dwelling together with his mom who immigrated from Guyana in 1974, and a father who would later abandon them.

Following his commencement from Bishop Molloy Excessive College, Benjamin attended Brown College the place he obtained a level in public coverage, and Harvard College of Enterprise, the place he obtained an MBA.

Although he labored briefly for a Rhode Island-based gaming firm, when he returned to New York Metropolis he landed at Morgan Stanley as an funding supervisor. Nevertheless it was later, at Genesis Realty, a agency that rehabilitates reasonably priced housing, that he stepped additional away from the personal sector and nearer to public service. In that position, he oversaw renovations for six reasonably priced housing properties throughout Harlem.

Changing into a well-known face within the neighborhood, Benjamin additionally served on Manhattan’s Group Board 10, and was plugged in with Harlem’s political institution, turning into lively with the Nationwide Motion Community.

Nevertheless it was after the particular election in 2017, during which the Manhattan Democratic Get together handpicked him to be positioned on the ticket, when his trajectory modified, transitioning to a full-time public service. Within the 4 years Benjamin has been in workplace, 13 of the 200 payments he sponsored have been signed into regulation.

Hochul and Benjamin at the event

Governor Hochul Declares Collection of Senator Brian Benjamin for Lieutenant Governor

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Governor Hochul Declares Collection of Senator Brian Benjamin for Lieutenant Governor

Gov. Hochul’s Workplace

And now, Benjamin has been chosen to function lieutenant governor, a place whose powers are in the end determined by the governor, however he says he trusted Hochul sufficient to relinquish his senate seat.

“It’s a complete operate of the connection with the governor,” Richard Ravitch, the lieutenant governor below Governor David Paterson, stated. “I used to be concerned in every little thing once I was lieutenant governor. I by no means presumed to make choices that have been his choices to make.”

Arguably, a lieutenant governor’s most important operate is balancing the political scales, geographically hailing from one other a part of the state than the governor. That technique turns out to be useful when a governor runs for re-election, and Hochul has already declared she is going to run subsequent yr. By tapping Benjamin, a Black downstate lawmaker, it reveals how integral New York Metropolis is towards securing a win, and with him serving as lieutenant, it might imply entry to a Black constituency crucial to her success.

“Hochul selecting Benjamin does not eliminate [New York Attorney General] Tish James’ supporters by any stretch of the creativeness within the Black politics dialog,” Greer stated of subsequent yr’s race for governor. “It simply makes it just a little extra nuanced in loads of methods if Tish James decides to throw her hat within the ring.”

Jumaane Williams, the New York Metropolis Public Advocate, who has a powerful political base in Brooklyn, has additionally confirmed a gubernatorial run subsequent yr.

Whereas Benjamin can amplify the governor’s agenda in his new position, it’s unclear if he can usher in votes subsequent yr; based on Hank Sheinkopf, a political advisor, he places the chance of Benjamin attracting new voters at 50-50.

Talking with Gothamist/WNYC, Benjamin believes the race will come all the way down to how effectively they succeed—ought to he assist Hochul rein within the delta variant, reignite the state’s financial agenda, and get financial aid to struggling New Yorkers, high priorities for the Hochul administration, the pair “will do effectively politically.”

With the clock ticking towards the first, Benjamin is taking on Hochul’s provide in serving as a real collaborator. There shall be tooth to the position, based on the 2, which incorporates main a process pressure to suss out a “central nervous system” towards enhancing the New York Metropolis Housing Authority. The remainder of his coverage portfolio will embrace jumpstarting the financial system.

Learn extra: Gov. Hochul Says She Needs To Assist NYCHA. Can She Ship?

For allies within the state legislature, Benjamin is able to rising to the problem.

In interviews with lawmakers, many characterised Benjamin as ready for the position and primed to function governor ought to the state of affairs come up. Lieutenant governors ascend to the highest publish ought to a governor die, resign, or is impeached.

“He is clever, he is vibrant and he can maintain down that mantle if that chance arises. Not that we’re predicting it would, however he is there,” Assemblymember Al Taylor, whose district largely overlaps with Benjamin’s, stated. “So it is greater than only a ceremonial position, however you do wish to have somebody extremely certified ought to they must be in that area.”

His recognition within the Senate was such that the chamber’s majority chief, Andrea Stewart-Cousins, promoted him to assistant majority chief. And Bronx State Senator Jamaal Bailey, who was amongst these into consideration for lieutenant governor, stated Benjamin is thought to “construct a consensus and never afraid to make choices.”

Bailey and Benjamin grew to become buddies as the 2 started to sort out prison justice reform in 2019. On high of an anti-chokehold invoice he sponsored, Benjamin co-sponsored the repeal of the 50-A provision that shielded law enforcement officials from having personnel recordsdata disclosed. Each payments have been enacted. His stance on prison justice reform, together with help for Defund the Police, solid Benjamin as a progressive.

Whereas he confidently maintains that he and Hochul are “politically aligned,” a spokesperson, Hochul stated she is just not supportive of reducing funding for police departments.

The political stance represents one instance of the place Benjamin and Hochul deviate. Whereas the 2 have revered one another’s views, political strategist Sheinkopf sees his prison justice insurance policies to be a “political legal responsibility,” notably if the 2 survive the first and tackle Lee Zeldin, a possible Republican challenger.

“He could be an ideal goal for Zeldin, good goal for anyone center-right contemplating the crime continues to spike. There is a basic sense that issues are out of order.

For now, Benjamin is taking a form of victory lap, calling his an “American story.” On September ninth, he’ll be sworn in to his new position.

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