Hochul appoints congressman as lieutenant governor

Gov. Kathy Hochul appoints Representative Antonio Delgado as Lieutenant Governor.
Office of Governor Kathy Hochul/Mike Groll

In a clear effort to galvanize the Black vote, Gov. Kathy Hochul on Tuesday announced the appointment of Rep. Antonio Delgado to serve as Lieutenant Governor of New York, replacing Caribbean American Brian Benjamin, who was indicted in early April on bribery and related offenses.

Delgado currently represents New York’s 19th Congressional District, which includes the Hudson Valley and Catskills in Upstate New York.

He is Afro-Latino, the first person of color to represent Upstate New York in Congress and a member of both the Black and Hispanic Congressional Caucuses.

“Let me tell you something else I believe, I believe that New Yorkers deserve a government that is fully staffed, fully functioning, and fully committed to delivering for New Yorkers,” said Hochul in making the announcement. “They deserve a government that will work around the clock, relentlessly, to deliver results. They deserve a government that is laser-focused on leading New York’s next great comeback and building a brighter, better future, a more equitable future, for every New Yorker.

“To do that I need someone by my side who I can rely on for wisdom, guidance, and advice, and that person must be willing to put New Yorkers first and place a high priority on delivering results, rather than playing partisan politics,” she added. “They must believe in hard work, be a team player, and treat everyone with respect. And most important, they must be someone that New Yorkers trust and have absolute confidence in. So today, I’m really proud to say, I found that person. Today, I’m announcing my nominee, my selection for the new Lieutenant Governor of the State of New York: Congressman Antonio Delgado.”

Hochul said Delgado is no stranger to hard work and to public service, stating that he has been serving New York’s 19th congressional district, since 2018.

“And as we went down the list of candidates for this job, his name kept rising to the top. But if you follow politics, this should not come as a surprise. He’s been a rising star, with a resume to match,” she said. “Here on a Rhodes Scholarship while attending Colgate University in Hamilton, New York. After returning home from Oxford, he went to Harvard Law School. Spent his early career empowering young people. And also before returning to law, he worked as a young lawyer in both Manhattan and Brooklyn.

“On top of that, he’s made history,” Hochul added. “But what’s most important to me, what’s most impressive about this person, he’s the right person for the job. It’s his background. It’s his story to his family. It’s his life experience. The fact is he could have done anything, and he chose public service.

“In my opinion, you’ve heard me say this over and over,” the governor continued. “There is nothing more noble, nothing more sacred, than the bond that’s created between an individual who runs for office. And they put their trust in you on Election Day. And that must never be severed.”

Delgado said “New Yorkers deserve a Lieutenant governor who’s working day and night to make lives better for working people and their families. Upstate, downstate, it does not matter.

“We all want the same thing: security, family, opportunity,” he added. “The key is to listen, to listen to New Yorkers from all walks of life and be their voice to get the job done. I’ve already begun work on infrastructure, economic development and job creation in New York. I’ve led the way and making sure that local communities have economic development resources, and importantly can decide what to do with economic development funds. I’ve worked on the nexus between agricultural development, upstate and critical markets downstate.

“I will humbly continue to do this work and be very diligent as your Lieutenant Governor, as we embark on this journey together,” Delgado continued. “I look forward to connecting with diverse communities all across New York. I look forward to building meaningful relationships, to tapping into the goodness of our collective power.”

Caribbean American New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, a candidate for Governor of New York in June’s Democratic Primary, had strongly criticized Hochul after she accepted the resignation of her then Lieutenant Governor Benjamin on indictment of bribery and related offenses.

Damian Williams, another Caribbean American, who is the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced early April that Benjamin, the son of a Guyanese mother and Jamaican father, was charged with bribery, honest services wire fraud and conspiracy to commit those offenses, “based on his use of his official authority while a New York state senator to direct a state-funded grant to an organization controlled by a real estate developer (‘CC-1’) in exchange for campaign contributions made and procured by CC-1”.

Benjamin, 45, who resigned shortly after prosecutors unsealed the indictment, pleaded not guilty at a short appearance in Federal District Court in Lower Manhattan. He was released on a US$250,000 bond.

“As Lieutenant Governor, Kathy Hochul denied knowledge or awareness of Andrew Cuomo’s (former New York Governor wrongdoing,” Williams, the son of Grenadian immigrants, told Caribbean Life. “Now, she’s repeating the same posture and strategy with her own lieutenant.

“Either she’s consistently shamefully out of the loop, or shamefully enabling through her inaction,” he added. “And, either way, it’s clear that, unless we elect leadership outside of the old ways of Albany, these patterns of scandal and corruption will keep repeating.

“Throughout our campaign, we’ve highlighted how the Hochul administration represented Albany’s dysfunctional status quo.,” Williams continued. “She claims to have cleaned up the Capitol (Albany). But just this week, with historic handouts to Buffalo billionaires, donor-driven scandals and resignation, it’s never felt more familiar, or more clear, that we need drastic change.”

Hochul said in a brief statement that she was accepting Benjamin’s resignation “effective immediately.”

“While the legal process plays out, it is clear to both of us that he cannot continue to serve as Lieutenant Governor,” said Hochul, who had appointed Benjamin, a former New York State Senator, representing Harlem, last August, as her second-in-command. “New Yorkers deserve absolute confidence in their government, and I will continue working every day to deliver for them.”

In announcing the charges against Benjamin, along with Michael J. Driscoll, the Assistant Director-in-Charge of the New York Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”), and Jocelyn E. Strauber, Commissioner of the New York City Department of Investigation (“DOI”), Damian Williams, whose father is a Jamaican-born physician, said that the former New York Lieutenant Governor is also charged with two counts of falsifying records in connection with the preparation of contribution forms that falsely reported certain contributions made by CC-1 as being made by other individuals.

Benjamin is also charged with making false statements in a questionnaire he submitted while seeking to become lieutenant governor.

Benjamin, who surrendered to the FBI in Manhattan was presented before United States Magistrate Judge Ona T. Wang.

The case has been assigned to United States District Judge J. Paul Oetken.

“As alleged, Brian Benjamin used his power as a New York state senator to secure a state-funded grant in exchange for contributions to his own political campaigns,” Damian Williams said. “By doing so, Benjamin abused his power and effectively used state funds to support his political campaigns.

“My office and our partners at the FBI and DOI will continue to ensure that politicians who put themselves over the public interest will be prosecuted,” he added.

Damian Williams said that Benjamin is charged with one count of federal program bribery, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison; one count of honest services wire fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison; one count of conspiracy to commit those offenses, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison; and two counts of falsification of records, each of which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

Benjamin’s attorneys, James D. Gatta and William J. Harrington, said in a statement that Benjamin was suspending his campaign for lieutenant governor to “focus his energies on explaining in court why his actions were laudable, not criminal,” adding that there was “nothing inappropriate” about the US$50,000 grant.

They also said that their client “looks forward to when this case is finished, so he can rededicate himself to public service.”

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