Brian Benjamin, Son of Caribbean Immigrants Is the New Lieutenant Governor

By Janet Howard, Special to CAW

Brian Benjamin, Son of Caribbean Immigrants Is the New Lieutenant Governor
State Senator Brian Benjamin speaks at a press conference announcing him as Lt. Governor on August 26, 2021 in New York City.
Photo: Ron Adar / Shutterstock.com

 

Newly sworn-in Governor Kathy Hochul’s made a bold and strategic statement by appointing Brian Benjamin, a Democratic State Senator from Harlem, as New York’s next lieutenant governor. This move by Governor Hochul is expected to give her 2022 election plans a strong kickstart. New York City is saturated with Democratic voters she will urgently need when she runs for a full term in 2022. He is known as a well-connected player in Harlem politics.

Benjamin is now appointed to a role that Hochul previously served from January 1, 2015, to August 23, 2021, until her inauguration. According to the ruling of the state’s highest court, it is within her power to name a lieutenant governor to finish out her term without putting her choice to a public vote. While the role of lieutenant governor in New York has long been considered largely ceremonial, the two recent lieutenant governors have become Governor following the resignations of their predecessors.

Speaking to the People, Power & Politics Radio Show, State Senator Robert Jackson, who represents District 31, said, “Let me applaud Governor Kathy Hochul for appointing someone who has been a leader in the NY Senate. He has been in the Senate for several years representing District 30. He is our floor captain, meaning he is at the podium leading the Senate when we are in session. He is highly educated, went to Harvard, married, a stable, well-rounded individual who understands what the people of Harlem and the surrounding areas need. He listens to what everyone has to say. I am happy that we now have a partnership with the Governor from Upstate and Brian Benjamin from Downstate. My congratulations to him.”

Partners

The Governor introduced the incoming Lieutenant Governor, Democratic state Sen. Brian Benjamin, as her “partner” during a press conference in Harlem held Thursday, telling New Yorkers to “get used to that word.”

“I am so delighted to announce my partner — and the word partner means something to me. Someone who works side by side in the trenches. Someone who will be out there championing our policies and our administration’s agenda in every corner of the state, with a real focus on New York City,” said Hochul, praising Benjamin.

“New York City needs our help, and this individual is someone who’s been through the trenches, starting locally where he was on his community board, where he worked his way up to the elective office and someone, I’ve become a dear friend of in the [state] Senate.”

Benjamin reciprocated with the praise, stating, “Governor Hochul is someone who I have a lot of faith in, and it’s not just because we did so many important things together over my four years as being a state senator. It’s because of the moments we had and our conversations where I could see inside her heart.

“I knew the kind of person she was before she had power. And you could tell a lot about someone before they have that ultimate power. A kind woman, a person of integrity, a person who believes that constituent services matter and believes that it’s bigger than us. It’s about the people of the State of New York. That is your Governor, Kathy Hochul.”

“I’ve got very big shoes to fill because there has been no lieutenant governor who has traveled this state, all 62 counties, working hard. There is no one more ready to be Governor right now than Governor Kathy Hochul. But I’m up for the task,” he added.

Who is Brian A. Benjamin?

Benjamin is the son of Caribbean immigrants. Brian A. Benjamin is the New York State Senator for District 30, encompassing Harlem, East Harlem, and the Upper West Side. He was born in Harlem to a Caribbean mother who came to this country seeking new opportunities. Though they didn’t have a college education, his parents were fortunate enough to find well-paying union jobs, which allowed them to provide Brian and his siblings with a middle-class upbringing. After graduating from high school in New York City, Brian sought the quality education his parents had dreamed of providing him, earning his undergraduate degree in Public Policy from Brown University and his MBA from Harvard Business School.

He also serves as the senior assistant majority leader of the Senate. A political progressive, he has focused on criminal law reform efforts such as bringing greater accountability to the NYPD, significantly limiting police no-knock warrants, ending cash bail, ending solitary confinement, not incarcerating parolees for parole violations, restoring the voting rights of parolees, allowing felons who completed their sentences to serve on juries, and passing an anti-chokehold act. He also sponsored and passed the Rainy-Day Fund bill, which allowed New York City to set aside funds in a revenue stabilization fund. Earlier this year, he ran an unsuccessful campaign for City Comptroller.

Eyes on 2022 Elections

Ken Sherrill, a professor emeritus of political science at Hunter College, told THE CITY that Benjamin’s appointment signifies that Hochul is focused on shoring up downstate support from Black voters. He noted that two Black New York City Democrats –– New York Attorney General Letitia James and Public Advocate Jumaane Williams –– stand as formidable potential challengers to Hochul in next year’s primary.

“There are two rules in electoral politics: the first is get elected, and the second is get reelected,” said Sherrill. “There’s no doubt that that was in Hochul’s mind when she chose Brian Benjamin. He’s a good campaigner, he’s from the city, and he adds diversity to the ticket.”

According to THE CITY, Hochul’s pick may also have to do with her past performance in a September 2018 primary against Williams. Hochul, who narrowly won the statewide primary, bested Williams in The Bronx but lost to him by more than 26,000 votes in Manhattan.

In that race, Hochul suffered a bruising loss in 2018 in Benjamin’s home turf — areas where Williams won with more than 60% of the Democratic primary vote, according to an analysis by Steven Romalewski, director of the mapping service at the Center for Urban Research at the CUNY Graduate Center.

Rangel sees Benjamin as a vote magnet who will help Hochul’s chances next year.

“One thing is for certain; he’ll bring in city votes to help out our new Governor. I don’t think he was brought onto the ticket to bring in upstate votes,” said former Rep Rangel, who will be supporting the ticket. Rangel represented Harlem in Congress for 45 years.

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