For New York’s Resurgent Left, Governor Kathy Hochul Is Proving a Formidable Adversary

New York’s post–Andrew Cuomo governor, Kathy Hochul, has been taking a page from her disgraced predecessor, savvily maneuvering to sideline the state’s resurgent left — even when the main beneficiary turns out to be the GOP.

Governor Kathy Hochul speaking at a news conference in the Brooklyn, New York on April 12, 2022. (Victor J. Blue / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

On Tuesday, Governor Kathy Hochul dealt a great blow to the institutional left’s hopes of winning a statewide office when she picked Antonio Delgado, a Hudson Valley congressman, to be her lieutenant governor. Hochul was willing to imperil the House Democratic majority to make her ticket significantly stronger. It was an Andrew Cuomo–esque maneuver for a politician who promised, last year, to be something very different.

Hochul was able to appoint Delgado and have him appear on the June Democratic primary ballot because the state legislature changed the election law for her. Last month, Brian Benjamin, her former lieutenant governor, was arrested and charged with overseeing a bribery scheme to benefit a prior campaign. Hochul was not implicated but had picked Benjamin last year even after media reports raised the possibility of improprieties.

Ineffectual and corrupt, Benjamin was indicted just after the conclusion of the petitioning process. Under New York election law, the only way to remove him from the ballot was for him to die or move out of the state. The federal indictment limited his travel options. Finding willing partners in the state legislature, Hochul simply had the lawmakers vote to change the rules this week. Benjamin, who had already resigned, was promptly removed.

The vote in the state senate was close, 33 to 29, with progressive Democrats and democratic socialists joining Republicans in opposing Hochul. It was reasonable, on the one hand, to alter an archaic election law that wouldn’t allow a politician who had left office to also leave a ballot. But it was clear that Hochul only went to extraordinary lengths to change the law because her own political future was in danger. The Working Families Party (WFP) had backed Ana Maria Archila, a prominent activist and close ally of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, for lieutenant governor and she was a serious threat to Benjamin. Hochul did not want to govern with such an unapologetic progressive. Had it been Archila herself indicted — and her running mate, Jumaane Williams, demanding a last-minute alteration of the election law — there is little chance the legislature would have listened to them.

Delgado is a very different kind of opponent for the WFP. He won two tough races in a Hudson Valley swing district that will now probably fall to a Republican in November. A prolific fundraiser who can probably appeal to downstate black and Latino voters, Delgado is also a relative centrist, fully in lockstep with Hochul’s political brand. Delgado voted to send troops to the southern border in 2019, and opposed Squad priorities like the Green New Deal and Medicare for All.

For Delgado and Hochul personally, the alliance makes much sense, if it helps to doom the chances of Democrats holding the House next year. Hochul gets a much more potent running mate, with a history of winning elections and who is a favorite to defeat Archila and another candidate in the primary, the more conservative Diana Reyna. Delgado can ascend to a statewide perch where he can more credibly mount a future bid for governor or the Senate. A House Democrat with little seniority can’t do much, especially with Republicans such a threat to win both chambers of Congress.

The Democratic Socialists of America aren’t supporting Archila or any statewide candidates, preferring to train their resources and energy on legislative races. This is for the best. Archila now faces a tremendous uphill battle, with Hochul able to spend some of her $20 million on Delgado’s behalf and Delgado himself able to fundraise aggressively. Delgado is a much easier sell for rank-and-file voters than Benjamin. It’ll be up to WFP to figure out, in the next month or so, how to defeat such formidable opposition.