New Yorker of Guyanese – Jamaican parentage appointed NY lieutenant governor

Brian Benjamin and Kathy Hochul

Newly-installed New York Governor, Kathy Hochul announced last Thursday the selection of Caribbean American New York State Sen. Brian Benjamin for lieutenant governor.

Benjamin, 44, the son of a Guyanese mother and Jamaican father, previously served as the New York State Senator for District 30 – which encompasses Harlem, East Harlem and the Upper West Side in Manhattan.      

He was the chairman of the New York Senate Committee on Revenue and Budget, and Senior Assistant Majority Leader, where he distinguished himself as a leader in criminal justice reform and affordable housing.

Benjamin, who remains heavily involved in his community in Harlem, and Hochul, 62, previously worked together on several key issues, including fighting the opioid epidemic and boosting addiction recovery programs, supporting Minority and Women-owned Business Enterprises (MWBE) and making it easier for New Yorkers to vote.

“I believe that governing is about working together. Teamwork is the essence of effective leadership, and it is more important than ever as we confront the urgent problems facing the state,” said Hochul in making the announcement. “My administration is going to attract the best and the brightest – people who share my values of working hard for the people of this state and who will get the job done – and that includes the newest member Senator Brian Benjamin, who has agreed to serve as my lieutenant governor.

Hochul, the former lieutenant governor, who, on Tuesday, succeeded former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who resigned after the state’s Attorney General Letitia James issued a blistering investigative report allegedly accusing Cuomo of sexually harassing 11 women and creating a toxic work environment.

“I want to thank Governor Hochul for trusting me with the incredible honor of serving alongside her as lieutenant governor,” Benjamin said. “Gov. Hochul is a collaborator, who makes sure everyone has a seat at the table, and, like me, is laser-focused on listening to the needs of New Yorkers and empowering local leaders.

The Rev. Al Sharpton, founder and president of the Harlem-based National Action Network (NAN), said: Whether it’s life experience, race, background or otherwise, New York was built on a foundation of diversity and, thanks to Gov. Hochul’s leadership, that foundation has already become a pillar of her administration with the selection of Brian Benjamin as our state’s next lieutenant governor.

“From his early work to build affordable housing in Harlem as a community leader, to his advocacy as a longtime member of NAN, to his efforts as a senator to solve the issues threatening the health and well-being of New Yorkers, like the opioid crisis, Senator Benjamin has made a career of tackling the problems that have prevent far too many working families from lifting themselves up,” he said.

“This is a fantastic choice, and I look forward to helping both Gov. Hochul and Sen. Benjamin begin this next chapter in New York’s history,” Rev. Sharpton added.

Dr. Hazel N. Dukes, president of the New York State Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the oldest and largest civil rights organization in the United States, said that “from his work helping fight the opioid crisis to his work to help Minority and Women Owned businesses thrive, Brian Benjamin has spent his career focused on the issues that impact everyday New Yorkers, and I am so excited to see him continue that work as our state’s lieutenant governor.

Guyanese-born New York State Sen. Roxanne Persaud, who represents the largely Caribbean 19th Senate District in Brooklyn, hailed Benjamin’s ascension.

“Congratulations to my Senate colleague Brian Benjamin on his appointment as Lieutenant Governor of New York,” Persaud told Caribbean Life late Thursday. “He has been an outstanding senator, and I know that he is ready to work alongside Gov. Hochul on the plans to rebuild our state, as we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic…“I will miss him in the Senate as a colleague and friend, and as part of the Guyanese delegation, she added.

Benjamin says on his website that he was born in Harlem “to a Caribbean mother who came to this country seeking new opportunities.”

“Though they didn’t have a college education, his parents were fortunate enough to find well-paying union jobs, which allowed them to provide Brian and his siblings with a middle-class upbringing,” the website says.

“After graduating from high school in New York City, Brian sought the quality education his parents had dreamed of providing him with, earning his undergraduate degree in Public Policy from Brown University and his MBA from Harvard Business School,” it adds.