New York State

Who will Hochul appoint as lieutenant governor?

Inside the governor’s search for her new No. 2 – who probably can’t serve for long.

Gov. Kathy Hochul has another opportunity to consider representation when finding a replacement for the open Lt. Gov. role.

Gov. Kathy Hochul has another opportunity to consider representation when finding a replacement for the open Lt. Gov. role. Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

Gov. Kathy Hochul is on the hunt for a lieutenant governor – again – after her first pick, Brian Benjamin, resigned Tuesday following his indictment on five federal counts, including bribery, for allegedly stealing state funds in exchange for campaign donations.

State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins is acting lieutenant governor for now, but Hochul plans to appoint a new one.

“I want New Yorkers to have complete confidence in their government. And let them know that I’m going to keep delivering for them,” Hochul said Wednesday on WNYC. “And I’m going to find a real partner to continue to do the same as well. We need a little bit of time, but we’re going to get it right.”

Political insiders expect the white governor from Buffalo to prioritize choosing a person of color, most likely from New York City or its suburbs. She chose Manhattan resident Benjamin last year, who is Black, and now there’s increased pressure to choose a Latino or possibly an Asian American lieutenant governor. Some 19% of the state’s population identifies as Hispanic, and 9% as Asian American, but representatives of neither group have ever held statewide office. 

It’s likely to be a short-term gig though, only through the end of the calendar year, which could make it a little harder to recruit. Whoever is appointed almost certainly won’t be able to get on the ballot and run with Hochul. The governor says she’s looking into options (and asking Benjamin to move out of state is one of them). But it’s most likely that if Hochul wins reelection, it’ll be with another lieutenant governor who would take office Jan. 1, 2023. And whoever Hochul appoints now would be out of a job.

Team of Rivals

One way around this? Appointing one of the other two Democrats running for the job: former New York City Council Member Diana Reyna or Ana María Archila, former co-executive director of The Center for Popular Democracy. Of the options, speculation has centered around Reyna, whose moderate political positioning would seem to be a better match for Hochul than the progressive Archila – the running mate of her old foe, New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams. Hochul didn’t rule out Reyna on Wednesday, but certainly didn’t rule her in either, telling WNYC’s Brian Lehrer that she hadn’t even “heard that rumor” that she’d pick Reyna and that “there’s been absolutely no decisions made” on appointing a lieutenant governor yet since “it is too early in the process.”

Reyna danced around the issue Wednesday, not giving a clear answer on whether she’d accept an appointment for the reminder of the year. But Rep. Tom Suozzi, her running mate who is challenging Hochul in the primary, was quick to endorse the idea, saying Hochul should appoint Reyna. That could make the political mess from Benjamin suspending his campaign even messier though, since Reyna made it clear she is still supporting Suozzi. Both Reyna and Archila have been harshly critical of Hochul and her choice of Benjamin as a nominal No. 2 last year. Picking one of these two Latinas from Brooklyn could potentially allow for some continuity going into the next term, but the governor may not be eager to invite either of the rivals into her inner circle.

An insider

If it’s just a short-term job, Hochul could choose a caretaker for the office who’s already working for her. Political insiders have speculated that Secretary of State Robert Rodriguez would be a natural fit. Rodriguez was just vetted by Hochul’s team when he gave up his East Harlem Assembly seat to be appointed late last year. 

Rodriguez didn’t respond to a request for comment, but his allies like the idea. “My gut says, whomever the governor picks will have to be stable, trustworthy and thoroughly vetted. Secretary Rodriguez fits that bill,” said Wilfredo López, an Assembly candidate for the seat Rodriguez once held. 

Former Secretary of State Rossana Rosado, now commissioner of the state Division of Criminal Justice Services, is another name that has been raised, as well as Kathryn Garcia. Garcia, who is white, is Hochul’s director of state operations and finished a close second in the Democratic primary for mayor of New York City last year, but those close to her don’t think she would be interested in giving up her powerful current job for what has traditionally been a more ceremonial role.

An elder statesperson

When David Paterson became governor, he appointed respected elder statesman Dick Ravitch as his No. 2. That choice resulted in a court case that confirmed the governor’s ability to appoint their own lieutenant governor – a decision that Hochul will now take advantage of twice in less than a year. Hochul could follow that example by picking a respected name with a long career in politics or government such as former New York City Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum, who leads Citizens Union; former New York City Comptroller Bill Thompson, who chairs the CUNY board of trustees; or former Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer. Ferrer, however, is the chair of Suozzi’s gubernatorial campaign, which could pose political problems. Former New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is probably too controversial, but that hasn’t stopped politicos from joking on the internet about it. And former city Comptroller Scott Stringer is probably untouchable too, after being accused of sexual misconduct in an incident that happened 20 years ago during his New York City mayoral campaign last year. Stringer has said he didn’t do anything wrong, and when asked about his interest in the open role, he texted City & State “You never know :)” Ravitch himself would do the job too. “Sure! Public service is something I always respond very positively to,” the 88-year-old told City & State on Tuesday. He said he hadn’t been contacted by Hochul’s team and never connected with Benjamin during his time in the job either, even though Ravitch reached out to him. “She should appoint somebody who can help her govern for the balance of this year,” Ravitch said about Hochul – but admitted it might be a tough role to fill. “Lieutenant governors don’t have a major function. They only have what the governor wishes them to have. I don’t know what the governor’s going to do now.”

An elected official

Last time Hochul looked for a lieutenant governor, she seemed to be focused on sitting elected officials. Names raised at the time included Benjamin, state Sens. Jamaal Bailey and Alessandra Biaggi, then-Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., Williams, and Assembly Members Ron Kim and Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn, but most are now out of contention. Biaggi is running for Congress, Williams is running against Hochul and nobody expects Diaz would want to leave his private sector job at Montefiore Medical Center for a short-term gig. Since petitioning is over, and Democratic primary ballots are close to set, a sitting legislator could, in theory, resign from their current job and serve as lieutenant governor for the remainder of the year, then win their seat back in November. But that kind of a messy move would likely annoy constituents and good-government groups. Legislative Democrats may also be discouraged from jumping back and forth to Hochul’s team immediately after a contentious budget process, while the legislative session is ongoing. That said, being the backup governor is a high-profile position, and there’s no shortage of legislators who might see it as a springboard and a way to create a powerful ally in the state’s top leader – just like Benjamin did last year.

Identity politics

Kim, one of the relatively few sitting Asian American legislators, doesn’t think Hochul would want to pick him anymore. He’s been a critic of the administration and told City & State he’d be endorsing Archila for the office. He’d only take the job if Hochul let him use the time to clean up the state Department of Health and oversee an independent investigation into nursing home deaths.

The Queens Democrat also said he doesn’t think Hochul should be appointing somebody simply for racial balance. “I think she got in trouble because she prioritized identity politics over policies that mattered for our state,” Kim said about the choice of Benjamin. But he expects her to do that again. “Now she has no choice but to double down on identity politics and rely on establishment power to try and win this election.”

But what one man sees as identity politics, others see as a historical opportunity for representation – and to shore up key voting blocs. “For so long, we’ve been talking about the Hispanic community not being represented,” said Andrés Pazmino, a Latino political consultant. “It’s symbolism, but it’s a good vote of confidence. If she’s smart, she’ll do a Hispanic person.”

Pazmino added that it would be the same case for an Asian American lieutenant governor – and Wayne Ho of the Chinese-American Planning Council agreed. He told City & State he reached out to contacts in the governor’s office Tuesday and encouraged them to choose an Asian American candidate.  “This is an opportunity,” he said, “for the governor to show her connection to the state’s fastest growing racial group.”