FILE - NY Brian Benjamin 2-11-2019

New York state Sen. Brian Benjamin speaks during a joint legislative budget hearing on local government Monday, Feb. 11, 2019, in Albany, N.Y.

(The Center Square) – New York Gov. Kathy Hochul has selected state Sen. Brian Benjamin as her successor as the state’s lieutenant governor, according to news reports, a decision seen as an olive branch to the Democratic Party’s progressive wing that drew immediate condemnation from state Republicans.

Benjamin’s Harlem-based district provides Hochul’s administration with geographic balance, as she hails from Buffalo, and runs counter to her reputation as a moderate Democrat. Benjamin has typically embraced the most progressive policies of his party, including defunding police departments.

Multiple news outlets reported that Benjamin’s selection would be announced at an event Thursday in Harlem.

Benjamin, 44, will take on a largely ceremonial position without much power so long as the governor remains in office. The lieutenant governor can cast a tiebreaking vote if the state Senate is deadlocked, and will typically attend more in-person events than the governor. In the event that the governor vacates the office, like Hochul’s predecessor, Andrew Cuomo, the lieutenant governor is sworn in to fulfill the remainder of the term.

State Sen. Jamaal Bailey, a Bronx Democrat who was considered Benjamin’s top rival for the lieutenant governor position, congratulated his colleague on Twitter.

“All about the Benjamins about to be played on a statewide level!” Bailey said. “As we reimagine New York, we continue to move forward with the best. Huge congrats to my brother @NYSenBenjamin and his wonderful family on this well-deserved appointment as our new Lieutenant Governor!”

The state Republican Party, however, was incensed at word of Benjamin’s impending appointment.

“New Yorkers are being shot, stabbed, raped, robbed and attacked in huge crime surges across the state of New York and Kathy Hochul just doubled down on Democrats’ dangerous agenda by appointing a ‘Defund the Police’ radical leftist to serve as her second in command,” party Chairman Nick Langworthy said in a news release. “This reckless pick proves that she represents a continuation of the same failed policies and underscores the urgency of electing a Republican governor in 2022 who will bring common sense and balance to New York.”

Assemblymember Chris Tague, R-Greene, was similarly outraged, describing the selection of Benjamin as “our worst fears … becoming a reality.”

“[T]his governor has no intention of putting the people of New York before the desires of radical New York City socialists,” Tague said in a statement. “During a time when violent crime is rising throughout the state, what we need is to restore judicial discretion by ending bail reform and empower our locally-elected judges to keep dangerous criminals off of our streets.”

There weren’t any indications of opposition to Benjamin among Democrats, however, as early reactions began to trickle out.

“Like @GovKathyHochul, @NYSenBenjamin is a real ‘people person,’” state Sen. Pete Harckham, D-Dutchess, wrote on Twitter. “The state will benefit greatly from his intelligence, determination and collaborative spirit.”

Hochul has indicated that she intends to run for reelection in 2022 in the hopes of winning a full term in office, presumably with Benjamin as her running mate. The state Republican Party has already anointed U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin as its “presumptive nominee,” ahead of the primary next year.

Managing Editor

Delphine Luneau is a veteran journalist with more than 20 years of experience. She was the editor of Suburban Life Media when its flagship was named best weekly in Illinois, and she has worked at papers in South Carolina, Indiana, Idaho and New York.