Harlem Democrat tapped to serve as New York's lieutenant governor
Between the political drama of a ravaging pandemic and the ravenous "appetite" of New York's now-disgraced, former governor Andrew Cuomo, the Empire State has been reeling. But with the history-making installation of the state's first woman governor and her recent selection of a Black lieutenant governor, New York residents can look toward a different political horizon.
Last Thursday, Governor Kathy Hochul officially announced New York state Senator Brian Benjamin as the state's second-in-command.
After an introduction by Al Sharpton at Harlem's Adam Clayton Powell Jr. state office building, Hochul, in her first borough appearance as New York's 57th governor, called Benjamin onstage, referring to him as "my partner" and praising the community that helped raise him.
“I want to thank the entire village of Harlem who helped create this young man who’s going to help us lead the state into better days and prosperity,” beamed Hotchul to an enthusiastic crowd of Harlemites.
Benjamin graciously accepted the selection and the words of praise from Hochul. He even took a moment to return the favor, explaining that his connection to the governor runs deeper than shallow politics.
"Gov. Hochul is someone I have a lot of faith in. 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, the conversations we had, where I was able to see inside her heart. And I knew the kind of person she was before she had power."
Benjamin, 44, began his political career in 2017 and has served two terms in the state senate. His seat encompasses all of Harlem as well as a portion of the Upper West Side and Morningside Heights.
Politically, Benjamin has pursued a progressive agenda in New York's upper chamber, focusing on criminal law reform, including increased police accountability, limiting no-knock warrants, ending cash bail, abolishing solitary confinement, and restoring voting and jury service rights to the formerly incarcerated. Benjamin was also a proponent and sponsor of an anti-chokehold act.
Earlier this year, Benjamin ran unsuccessfully for New York City comptroller, finishing the race in fourth place, despite both his positive political track record and his Harvard M.B.A. Before entering politics, Benjamin worked in real estate development and even enjoyed a brief stint as a reality-TV personality on Oprah's OWN Network.
Hochul's selection of Benjamin as her number two reflects a certain political saavy on the part of the newly-minted governor. By bringing a well-loved, well-educated, progressive, reform-minded Black man from Harlem into her administration, Hochul stands to increase her political capital and gain much needed allies in the aftermath of a scandal that caused many New Yorkers to lose faith in the governor's office.
Longtime Harlem Congressman Charles Rangel was keen to note the wisdom of Hochul's selection, telling the New York Post, “I’m very excited. Brian Benjamin is a wonderful choice. Brian is active and appreciated in the community."
“It’s one of the reasons he was selected. It certainly broadens Hochul’s base beyond Buffalo,” mused Rangel.
The swearing in ceremony for lieutenant governor will take place, “right after Labor Day,” according to Hochul. Benjamins state Senate seat will be filled in November via a special election.