Hochul Taps Senator Brian Benjamin To Serve As Lt. Governor

Governor Kathy Hochul has tapped Harlem state Senator Brian Benjamin to succeed her as the next Lieutenant Governor, according to multiple reports.

Benjamin, who unsuccessfully ran for New York City Comptroller this year, represents Harlem and parts of Washington Heights. A Harvard graduate, Benjamin has served in the State Senate since 2017 and is currently Senior Assistant Majority Leader. It’s unclear when Benjamin, a progressive Democrat who had succeeded Bill Perkins, will take over the role.

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Hochul’s decision was well received by those on the shortlist of prospective successors, including Bronx state Senator Jamaal Bailey, who doubles as chair of the Bronx Democratic Party. Bailey congratulated Benjamin in a tweet, calling it a “well-deserved appointment.”

Other lawmakers that had been considered included outgoing Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. and Brooklyn Assemblymember—and chair of the borough’s Democratic Party—Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn.

Before entering politics, Benjamin served as chair of the local community board while working as managing partner for Genesis Companies, a real estate group that helped finance affordable housing projects. Benjamin had also appeared in a reality TV show called “Love In The City,” with a former ex-girlfriend.

As a state Senator, Benjamin’s brand of politics have skewed toward left-leaning policies. He has supported bills favorable to progressive Democrats. They include major criminal justice reform that included changes to discovery to ending cash bail. Benjamin also sponsored a bill that mandates a residency requirement for police officers.

The announcement fulfills a promise made by Hochul that she would pick a successor from New York City who is a person of color. But it also lays the groundwork for Hochul’s run for governor next year as she seeks to balance her ticket and establish greater alliances in the lead-up to the 2022 primary.

This includes establishing deeper connections to the Black community, a political blind spot for Hochul, who is more familiar in whiter sections of the state.

Brian Benjamin at a lectern wearing a t-shirt that says "Black the vote"

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State Senator Brian Benjamin at a Juneteenth event on June 19, 2021

Alex Kent/Shutterstock

“Does [Benjamin] generate votes? Not sure,” Hank Sheinkopf, a political strategist told Gothamist/WNYC. “But where does the growing statewide Latino population stand and can a Hochul-Benjamin ticket appeal to the growing population in Queens?”

The Black political power center, however, has slightly shifted away from Harlem and into sections of Brooklyn. It’s one reason some political observers believed Hochul would have chosen Hermelyn, though there was concern that having two women on the tickets would be risky.

George Arzt, another political strategist, noted that between Hochul’s experience as Lieutenant Governor and her need to build on relationships with downstate legislators, Benjamin will be an integral figure in her administration.

“He’ll have a seat at the table because she knows what it is like to be marginalized,” Arzt said. “She won’t do that to him and he’s going to be very important in the election next year.”

He also noted that Benjamin’s ties with Brooklyn could also help Hochul’s political prospects next year since Hermelyn maintains a good relationship with Benjamin. An established relationship could help peel away votes from any potential challengers, including New York City Comptroller Jumaane Williams, who has already expressed a desire to run next year, and state Attorney General Letitia James, whose name has frequently been mentioned as a possible candidate.

In an interview with the NY Times published late Tuesday, Hochul said she had already decided on a Lt. Governor. She is among the few New York governors to handpick a successor.

Hochul’s decision also adds to the continued gains made by Black leaders in New York City. This year voters chose Eric Adams and Alvin Bragg—both of whom are Black—to serve as Democratic nominees for mayor and Manhattan District Attorney, respectively. With Democrats outnumbering Republicans in New York City, their wins are all but assured.

Spokespersons for Hochul and Benjamin did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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