ALBANY — Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul confirmed on Wednesday that one of her first acts upon replacing Gov. Andrew Cuomo will be to choose somebody to replace her as lieutenant governor — a decision that will quickly help define her administration and provide the first hints as to her approach to winning a full term in 2022.
“A lot of people have reached out to me,” Hochul said. “I’m really excited about working with the next lieutenant governor, who will be named in the next few weeks. Currently we’re considering a number of individuals. The fortunate thing for me is that I’ve spent so much time in seven years getting to know many elected officials and community leaders personally, on a friendly level.”
Hochul has the ability to pick a replacement that will not be subjected to confirmation by the Legislature, thanks to a 2009 court decision that concluded that choosing a new lieutenant governor was a previously unknown power that governors have. The job is an amorphous one and largely depends on the governor’s prerogative: it can be someone who essentially acts a cheerleader for the administration, or someone who weighs in on policy and helps execute the Executive Chamber’s agenda.
The incoming governor isn’t yet tipping her hat as to who she might pick. But the looming decision has much of Albany gossiping about who her choice will be.
“The most important thing is the lieutenant governor and governor relationship be a true partnership,” said Stan Lundine, Mario Cuomo’s lieutenant from 1987 through 1994. “The governor should choose someone that he or she believes will be an effective partner, someone who will be loyal but also independent in their judgments, at least in private with the governor.”
Lundine said it was important to choose a lieutenant who can “make up for any shortcomings that the governor might have.”
The consensus among political observers seems to be that Hochul, who is white and from Buffalo, will almost certainly select a person of color from New York City. And it will likely be somebody who will stay with her on the 2022 ticket, rather than a placeholder.
The name most often cited by political players this week as a good fit for Hochul’s short list was state Sen. Brian Benjamin, who represents Harlem and doesn’t seem wedded to his current job — he ran to be New York City’s comptroller earlier this year. Another is Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr., scheduled to leave office at the end of the year, if Hochul could convince him to remain in public life.
But there’s a long list of qualified individuals whose names have come up as people make their predictions. In the state Assembly alone, at least a dozen members are being talked about. Some have noted that Hochul’s first event after Cuomo began to go into freefall last week was hosted by Assemblymember Alicia Hyndman (D-Queens).
Whomever Hochul picks could provide the first barometer to her approach to winning a term in her own right. Does she look for somebody in Brooklyn, attempting to build support in the power base of Attorney General Tish James —the potential primary challenger most likely to pose a threat? Or does she pick somebody with connections in a different borough, attempting to grow her support in a corner of the city where she at least has some chance of being competitive?
Another name that’s been widely floated has been New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams. He ran against Hochul from the left in 2018, and is seen as a potential gubernatorial candidate in 2022. Joining forces with Williams could wind up being a way for Hochul to consolidate the party under her leadership and avoid headaches next year.
Most experts think that’s unlikely, however — as one observer pointed out, it might be unwise for a governor to willingly choose a lieutenant who’s as likely as not to spend his days protesting against the governor.
On Wednesday, Hochul dropped some hints about who she might be looking at, though none of these were terribly revealing. She wants “someone who is no stranger to me” and supports “strongly progressive policies.” And, knowingly or not, she signaled she was looking ahead to 2022.
“I love upstate, I love downstate, I love the whole state,” Hochul said. “There are so many qualified individuals but I’m cognizant of the need for diversity and an inclusive ticket.”