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Hochul selects state Sen. Brian Benjamin for lieutenant governor

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ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — New York Gov. Kathy Hochul has selected Brian Benjamin, a state senator from New York City, as her choice for lieutenant governor, according to a person familiar with the administration’s internal discussions.

The person spoke Wednesday with The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because Hochul had yet to announce her decision publicly. She is expected to do so this week.

Hochul will make a “special announcement” with Benjamin at 1 p.m. Thursday in Harlem, according to a public schedule released by her office Tuesday afternoon.

If he accepts the job, Benjamin, 44, would become the state’s second Black lieutenant governor. The Democrat, whose district includes most of central Harlem, has focused his legislative career on criminal justice reform and affordable housing.

The role of lieutenant governor in New York has long been largely ceremonial,with the officeholders traveling to ribbon-cutting ceremonies and town halls across the state. But the state’s two most recent lieutenant governors have become governor following the resignations of their predecessors.

Hochul, a Democrat, became governor Tuesday when Andrew Cuomo resigned after facing numerous allegations of sexual harassment, which he denied. David Paterson, the state’s first Black lieutenant governor, became its first Black governor when Eliot Spitzer resigned after revelations that he had patronized a sex worker.

Hochul’s and Benjamin’s offices didn’t immediately return messages seeking comment.

Benjamin is the son of Caribbean immigrants. He was born in Harlem Hospital and raised in the neighborhood, later earning a bachelor’s degree in public policy from Brown University and a master’s of business administration from Harvard Business School. He later worked as a developer of affordable housing.

Benjamin initially ran on promises to close Rikers Island, New York City’s giant and troubled jail complex, and sponsored a bill to do so. He also introduced legislation to divest New York’s public pension fund from private prisons. State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli later ended the fund’s holdings in those companies.

In the national uproar after the killing of George Floyd by a police officer in Minnesota in 2020, Benjamin helped push through a law to criminalize the use of police chokeholds that result in injury or death.

Benjamin has also tweeted support for defunding the police.

This year, Benjamin sponsored a billmaking it harder to incarcerate people for minor parole violations. The legislation passed the Senate and Assembly but hasn’t been delivered to the governor, according to the Senate’s website.

Benjamin’s selection drew criticism from some Republicans, who have found some electoral success in campaigning against bail reforms and other bills passed by Democrats in recent years.

GOP gubernatorial candidate Lee Zeldin, of Long Island, said Benjamin “championed cashless bail, fought to defund the police” and supports tax hikes.

Meanwhile, criminal justice reform advocates urged Hochul and Benjamin to pass more parole reforms, including legislation to allow parole consideration for older incarcerated adults.

“The time is now to reunite our families, heal communities torn apart by mass incarceration, and move New York toward redemption over permanent punishment,” Release Aging People in Prison Campaign Director Jose Saldana said.

Benjamin unsuccessfully ran for New York City comptroller this year. He serves as senior assistant majority leader in the Senate and chair of the budget and revenue committee.

Benjamin is listed as director at Canada-based Nextpoint Acquisition, according to his 2020 financial disclosure statements filed with the state in May. His annual salary is up to $50,000, while he has stock with a market value between $75,000 to $100,000.

He had a $110,000 annual salary as a state senator as of 2020. Hochul is set to receive the nation’s highest gubernatorial salary, at $225,000.