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Source: Gov. Hochul to name Sen. Brian Benjamin to be Lt. Gov.

State Sen. Brian A. Benjamin in front of

State Sen. Brian A. Benjamin in front of Alibi Lounge in Harlem, July 11, 2019. Credit: Marisol Diaz-Gordon

ALBANY — Gov. Kathy Hochul will select Democratic State Sen. Brian Benjamin to be her lieutenant governor pick, a source familiar with the decision said Wednesday.

Though Hochul's office didn't immediately comment, the administration in the late afternoon announced it would hold a 1 p.m. event Thursday in Manhattan with Benjamin.

Hochul, a Buffalo Democrat, previously said her pick for lieutenant governor would be from New York City as she looked for someone who could handle the job but also broaden her political base beyond Western New York and help her 2022 election bid.

Benjamin, 44, has represented a district covering Harlem, East Harlem and Manhattan’s Upper West Side since June 2017. He serves as chair of the Senate’s Budget and Revenue Committee and as senior assistant majority leader, and has been a vocal backer of recent pro-defendant changes to laws governing parole and criminal trials. He unsuccessfully ran for city comptroller in a primary this year.

Hochul’s office didn’t comment immediately, but many of Benjamin’s fellow senators confirmed the selection in a succession of congratulatory statements issued shortly before noon.

Sen. Jamaal Bailey (D-Bronx), who was considered a co-frontrunner for the post, wrote on Twitter: "Huge congrats to my brother, @NYSSenBenjamin and his wonderful family on this well-deserved appointment as our new Lieutenant Governor!"

Another rumored candidate, Assemb. Rodneyse Bichotte (D-Brooklyn) wrote: "Brian will be a great ally for #Brooklyn & I look forward to working w/ him and the entire @GovKathyHochul administration!"

Hochul became governor Tuesday, following the resignation of Andrew M. Cuomo, who stepped down after an investigation concluded he sexually harassed 11 women and the state Assembly signaled it would vote on impeachment charges by the end of August.

Hochul will serve the remaining 16 months in Cuomo's term; Benjamin, the remaining 16 as lieutenant governor.

The lieutenant governor presides over the State Senate and serves as the state's top executive if the governor is out of state or incapacitated. Otherwise, the list of duties is very small. It's not clear if Hochul would give her No. 2 more responsibility than Cuomo gave her, which wasn't much beyond traveling the state for official events.

Analysts said Hochul's choice was made with a look to next year in what is expected to be a crowded field of gubernatorial candidates.

"It was obvious from the beginning she needed someone from New York City to balance the ticket (geographically) and she needed someone African- American or Latino to get some diversity on the ticket. She has that now," said George Arzt, a longtime Democratic political consultant.

He said Benjamin is a good pick because he's "smart and has some economic development background." The senator also is an ally of powerful Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx), Arzt said.

Ultimately, though, a running mate has limited impact on a gubernatorial race, either in a primary or general election, Arzt said.

"It is the top of the ticket that’s the main thing," he said. "If Kathy Hochul can show she can govern and do well, she will have a leg up."

Among other Democrats mentioned as possible candidates are Attorney General Letitia James, Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) and Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone. A primary would be held in June.

Benjamin finished fourth in a primary for city comptroller. During the campaign, he stepped down from the board of NextPoint Acquisition Corp. after progressives criticized his affiliation with the company, which owned subprime lenders.

Nick Langworthy, Republican state chairman, criticized Benjamin as a "radical leftist," based in part on the senator's support to shift some police funding to other community programs.

"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," Langworthy said of Hochul.

Democrats, in contrast, called the senator a pragmatic progressive.

"Huge congrats to @NYSenBenjamin on being chosen as @GovKathyHochul's LG!" Sen. Elijah Reichlin-Melinick (D-Nyack) wrote. "In my first session in Albany, I’ve gotten to know Brian as a thoughtful, pragmatic progressive voice in the Senate — he will be an amazing LG!"

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