Lieutenant governor candidates debate the nature of the role and taking on the governor

In the lone debate with all three candidates, gun control, money in politics and abortion were among the wide-ranging topics.

The three candidates for lieutenant governor, from left, Diana Reyna, Ana Maria Archila and Antonio Delgado

The three candidates for lieutenant governor, from left, Diana Reyna, Ana Maria Archila and Antonio Delgado Jeff Coltin via Spectrum News NY1

Should the lieutenant governor be independent from the governor, publicly disagreeing as a fellow elected official? Or should they show a united front with the governor, keeping any debates behind closed doors?

That was a central question addressed in the debate among the Democratic candidates for lieutenant governor on Wednesday night. Three candidates will be on the ballot in the June 28 election: Antonio Delgado, a former member of Congress who was appointed lieutenant governor by Gov. Kathy Hochul last month; Ana María Archila, former co-executive director of progressive advocacy group The Center for Popular Democracy; and Diana Reyna, a political consultant who formerly served in the New York City Council and as deputy Brooklyn borough president.

Delgado entered the field late and has limited his appearances at debates and public forums, likely hoping to avoid conflict with his opponents. This was the only debate the state’s second-in-command has agreed to so far, but the hosts at Spectrum News and NY1 did their best to jam pack the 90-minute show with policy questions. With a small staff and little power, a sitting lieutenant governor may never get called on to weigh in on issues like building transit-oriented development, crafting gun laws that could withstand U.S. Supreme Court scrutiny and adjusting overtime regulations for farmworkers – but the candidates were asked about all those issues on stage. 

And the lieutenant governor hopefuls were asked about that central dynamic as well, the way that lieutenant governors have historically been ignored by their gubernatorial counterparts. Lt. Gov. David Paterson was left out of budget negotiations when he served under Gov. Eliot Spitzer. And Kathy Hochul was famously sidelined by Andrew Cuomo, when she served as his No. 2. Would these candidates demand to be included?

Delgado said he wouldn’t have to insist, suggesting that his record as a member of Congress representing a district in the Hudson Valley, would earn him the invite. Delgado joined Hochul’s team after the budget was decided this year, but he may be right. Before former Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin resigned in April, saying he would fight the federal corruption charges against him, he was involved with at least some parts of the budget negotiations regarding criminal justice.

Archila said she would “absolutely” insist on it. “As long as I’ve been organizing, governors have been an obstacle to progress,” she said, adding that they needed another voice in the room. That answer seemed to reflect the political reality for Archila. Hochul is heavily favored in the primary for governor, and if Archila were to win, chances are that she would be running on a ticket with somebody she has criticized as a tool of moneyed interests, rather than her informal running mate for the primary, New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams. That’s also the case for Reyna, who is running alongside Rep. Tom Suozzi and said she would make the case to join budget negotiations given her experience doing so for 12 years on the City Council.

Candidates were also asked if they’d speak out against the governor if they disagreed on something. Reyna said any disagreements should be hashed out in private: “New York does not need animosity between leaders.” She cited the infamous feud between Cuomo and then-New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, saying, “I would never want to participate in such rivalry.” Archila pushed back on that, saying she had a vision for a more independent office, no matter who was in the governor’s office. Archila criticized the current governor, saying that, unlike Hochul, she would have spoken up when Cuomo sent people with COVID-19 to nursing homes. “We cannot afford a lieutenant governor who stays quiet while people are suffering,” she said.

Delgado is in a different position as the incumbent. But after just three weeks in office, the nature of his relationship with Hochul is unclear, and he doesn’t seem eager to help define it. He tried to stake out the middle ground between his opponents, saying that while members of a team will have disagreements, “the objective needs to be to put our best foot forward.”

There were certainly disagreements among the candidates. Reyna criticized Hochul for devoting so much money to a new Buffalo Bills football stadium, and for doing so without a public hearing. Reyna and Suozzi are running in a more conservative lane in the Democratic primary, and she claimed that the governor’s policies are leading to more crime and that the state went too far in closing businesses and public gatherings in an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Archila is presenting herself as the progressive choice, and staked out positions on better pay for farmworkers, and limiting the influence of big money in politics. She worked to get Delgado on the defensive, criticizing him for a vote on border funding and for attending a White House party hosted by then-President Donald Trump. She also had one of the sharpest lines of the night regarding the pending legislation that would impose a two-year moratorium on cryptocurrency mining, which has faced criticism on environmental grounds. Archila said she would absolutely support it, while Reyna said she needed to talk more to people in upstate communities that have been affected before she decided. Hochul hasn’t said whether she would sign the bill yet, so Delgado – apparently not wanting to get out ahead of his boss – just said the moratorium should be “seriously considered.” Archila pounced. “This is a perfect example of the governor being an obstacle to progress and the lieutenant governor saying nothing,” she said.

Delgado was already put on the spot by debate moderators Errol Louis and Susan Arbetter, who asked about the outside support he was getting from a super PAC funded by cryptocurrency billionaire Sam Bankman-Fried. Delgado said he had no connections to Bankman-Fried, and noted his own support for campaign finance reform.

Delgado has a massive fundraising advantage over both Archila and Reyna, and – after a slow start to his campaign – has been rolling out high-profile endorsements, such as 32BJ SEIU and the Hotel Trades Council. He avoided major missteps Wednesday night, which seemed to be the campaign’s strategy by limiting his public appearances ahead of the primary. He may debate the governor behind closed doors in the future, but for at least one night, the debate was out in the open.