ALBANY — After a pair of recent gubernatorial primary debates that delved into topics like candidates’ favorite smells and their belief in ghosts, the lone debate Wednesday in advance of this year’s Democratic primary for lieutenant governor was a whole lot wonkier.
Lt. Gov. Antonio Delgado (Gov. Kathy Hochul’s running mate), activist Ana Maria Archila (New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams’ running mate) and former New York City Council Member Diana Reyna (who is running with Rep. Tom Suozzi) spent 90 minutes discussing topics like affordable housing in Kingston, opioid use in Sullivan County and the intricacies of farm worker overtime rules.
But the debate, which was largely cordial, also underscored major differences in what the candidates envision as the role of an office that is often one of Albany’s undercards, but has importance: Two of the last three elected lieutenant governors ended up in the top job when their bosses resigned in scandal. And Delgado took office just recently after his predecessor, Brian Benjamin, resigned after a federal indictment.
Take their responses to a question about whether Hochul should sign a bill imposing a limited moratorium on cryptocurrency mining in defunct fossil fuel plants.
“I want to understand where the community is as far as jobs are concerned – is this something they support?” Reyna said.
“I absolutely support the moratorium on crypto mining. I, in fact, met with the communities that live around Seneca Lake,” Archila said. “These power plants [have been] polluting the air, polluting the water and actually damaging the environment in one of the most beautiful regions in the state.”
Delgado responded: “This energy intensive process strikes to the heart of what we know about climate change…I think she should give it some serious thought, for sure.”
But his response drew a rebuke from Archila: “This is a perfect example of a governor being an obstacle to process and the lieutenant governor saying nothing,” she said.
Like in the lieutenant governor debates in recent elections, Wednesday’s boiled down to one fundamental question: Should the person who holds the office – which is nominated separately from the governor in the June 28 primary, but runs as a ticket in November – be an ally of the governor or an independent voice?
In the little over the month since Hochul appointed him to replace Benjamin, Delgado has repeatedly echoed what Hochul argued when she was running for lieutenant governor in the past. The office, both have said, should be an ally of the governor’s that works in partnership and keeps differences behind closed doors.
“I would note that I’m an upstate New York Basketball Hall of Famer,” Delgado said in the debate. “When you’re on a team, and for those who played on teams know, you’re going to have disagreements. But you try to have disagreements in a way where the objective is to be able to put your best foot forward for your shared objectives and goal.”
Archila envisions the role as one that should not be kept bottled up. The second-in-command, she argued, should publicly put pressure on the governor when needed.
“The lieutenant governor is not an appointed office,” she said. “Having a lieutenant governor that is just quietly standing in the background does not help anyone.”
Those differences were repeatedly highlighted by the candidates’ answers to the long list of policy questions that were discussed. When asked about issues that Hochul has not always taken a clear position on, Delgado said on several occasions that he would have to study an issue or called for a general plan to make a policy that works for everyone. Archila rarely hesitated to give a direct response.
“I support figuring out how to create more synergy between upstate farmers who are growing tremendous produce and diary and getting that into our schools,” when asked whether he supports Meatless Mondays in New York City schools.
“Yes, yes, eat your vegetables,” Archila said.
And what about a ban on gas hook-ups in new construction?
“I have to give that more thought,” Delgado said.
“We have to move away from it,” Archila responded.
While the candidates were generally amicable while on stage, Archila did attack the lieutenant governor for his ties to big money, including $1 million that a crypto-funded super PAC is spending on his behalf.
“I don’t even know who this crypto billionaire person is,” Delgado replied. He said voters should judge him by his “actions” and “record” on issues such as doing away with the ability of super PACs to spend unlimited amounts of money.
And that line of attack earned Archila a rebuke from Reyna. Suozzi’s running mate attacked Williams’ for receiving support from special interests of her own, such as state legislators.
“She has elected officials that are endorsing her,” Reyna said. “I don’t have half of the elected officials that are supporting her.”