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Democratic Candidates for Lieutenant Governor Debate Experience, Policy, and Vision

(l-r:) Ana Maria Archila, Antonio Delgado, and Diana Reyna

The three Democratic candidates for New York lieutenant governor met on the debate stage Wednesday night for the first and only time before voters go to the polls this month.

In the debate, broadcast by Spectrum News NY1, newly-appointed Lieutenant Governor Antonio Delgado faced off against activist and nonprofit leader Ana María Archila and Diana Reyna, a former City Council Member and Deputy Brooklyn Borough President. The candidates tried to distinguish themselves on their track records, views of the role of lieutenant governor, and stances on issues including government corruption, crypto-mining and the environment, gun control, abortion, housing, and more.

Candidates for Lieutenant Governor and Governor run in separate party primaries, with the winners then forming a ticket for the general election, where the nominees of each party appear together on the ballot.

Governor Kathy Hochul's running-mate, Delgado was recently sworn in after Hochul's first  lieutenant governor, Brian Benjamin, was indicted on federal corruption charges related to his fundraising as a State Senator and resigned while declaring his innocence. Democratic lawmakers changed the law to allow Delgado, then a member of Congress representing parts of upstate, to bump Benjamin from the ballot at the behest of Hochul earlier this year.

Archila is running with gubernatorial candidate Jumaane Williams, the New York City Public Advocate and a fellow progressive. Reyna is running with U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi of Long Island, and the pair are on many issues running to the right of Hochul and Delgado while Archila and Williams run to their left.

Though he joined the race quite late, Delgado has significant advantages as Hochul's running mate, a sitting office-holder, and his sizable war chest he was able to transfer over from his congressional campaign account as well as the financial support he is getting from Hochul, who has raised tens of millions of dollars more than her opponents. Delgado has quickly picked up endorsements in the race alongside Hochul, including from a growing list of elected officials and labor unions.

Williams and Archila are supported by much of the New York left, including the Working Families Party and many elected officials. They have raised limited funds, however.

With two of the last three lieutenant governors becoming governor following a resignation, including Hochul, moderators Errol Louis and Susan Arbetter pressed the candidates on how prepared they are for the top position, especially given that none of the three have significant state government experience.

Asked about overcoming that gap, their understanding of the levers of power in Albany, the budget process, and their willingness to stand up to the governor, the three candidates talked about their work in government or advocating for change from the outside.

"I bring to bear a certain level of experience, a certain record," Delgado said, referring to legislation he's passed in Congress under Presidents Trump and Biden, as well as billions in dollars of funding he said he helped secure for New York. "And when I come into this position, the expectation is that I'm an active partner."

Archila said she was willing to publicly oppose the governor on issues they disagreed on and insert herself into budget negotiations. "The lieutenant governor should be a forceful advocate for people each and every single day," she said. "Instead of standing quietly in the background, instead of just cutting ribbons."

Reyna touted her nearly two decades in city government. "I served as a budget negotiating member in the City Council for 12 years. I'm the only lieutenant governor candidate who has had executive government experience," she added, referring to her time as deputy to then-Borough President Eric Adams.

The candidates were asked about avoiding conflicts of interest with campaign donors.

Delgado said he supported national public campaign financing in Congress and wanted to place more regulations on lobbyists.

"We need to make sure that the revolving door of state legislators becoming lobbyists is chilled and frozen," Delgado said.

Asked, given the significant financial support he’s received from people involved in the cryptocurrency industry, whether he backs a moratorium on reopening fossil fuel plants to provide the energy needed for crypto-mining, Delgado said the bill that passed both houses of the Legislature "should be seriously considered."

State legislators passed the moratorium at the end of the legislative session and Hochul has said she will not make a decision on signing it until after the election. When pressed, Delgado denied any relationship to a crypto-currency billionaire who has funded a Super PAC that has generously supported his campaign. "I have no connection to this individual. None," he said.

Pressed again on whether Hochul should sign the bill, Delgado demurred: "I think she should give it some serious thought."

"This is a perfect example of the governor being an obstacle to progress and the lieutenant governor saying nothing," Archila said, articulating a main thrust of her campaign: that if elected she promises to be an outspoken lieutenant governor, not simply an extension of the governor’s office. Though she did not name Hochul, at one point Archila said that unlike the then-lieutenant governor, she would not have remained silent when then-Governor Cuomo was making deadly decisions about COVID-19 and nursing homes.

"When Governor Cuomo sent people who had COVID-19 back into nursing homes, that decision cost the lives of thousands and thousands of New Yorkers. I would have never stayed quiet," she said.

Archila said Hochul should sign the crypto-mining-related moratorium bill immediately, while Reyna said she wanted to hear more from potentially-impacted communities and that she was wary of hurting economic growth. Archila responded by saying she had already done so, and those at most risk of the climate impacts need to be protected. Archila was also the only candidate to support a ban on new commercial and residential gas hook-ups in upstate New York (the Legislature is considering a bill for a statewide ban starting in several years, but it did not pass before the end of the legislative session). 

On the attack much of the debate, Archila also criticized both Delgado and Reyna for taking money from wealthy donors. "Actions speak louder than words," she said. "Both of my opponents have accepted money from industries that dominate the debate in Albany. Antonio, you don't know the person who has spent a million dollars on behalf of your campaign? You should tell him to stop."

Reyna responded by saying that Archila also had special interests supporting her, citing elected officials and the Working Families Party.

On government ethics, Reyna said she wanted to see more staffing go to JCOPE, the state's recently-replaced ethics watchdog, for legislators to be full-time positions, and to institute a temporary ban on lobbying after leaving office.

Both Archila and Delgado said they would call for a special legislative session to enact gun control measures if the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down the state's concealed carry laws. They also said gun rules should be the same in urban and rural parts of the state. Archila called for $1 billion for community violence prevention programming, part of her public safety platform with Williams.

"Raising the age from 18 to 21 [to purchase a semi-automatic gun], would actually not have stopped many of the firings of assault weapons that have happened in New York and other parts of the country," Archila said of one gun control law Hochul recently signed. "I would urge the Legislature to go back to Albany and have the strongest legislation possible to prevent handguns from being carried in subways and public transportation in public places," she said of the potential Supreme Court ruling.

Delgado stressed a tailored response to the possible concealed carry ruling, which Hochul has previewed in broad terms. "I know the governor is already working with the legal team to figure out how, depending on the dictum and the holding, which is gonna be very important to the analysis here, how we can sharply respond to this ruling," he said.

Reyna said she is not focused on the Supreme Court case at this time and that the discussion should be on illegal gun trafficking from states with looser gun laws rather than the potential court decision. "I will have to further discuss with the Legislature, if elected lieutenant governor, and with the governor to understand exactly what implications that will have in the state of New York."

"This ruling is not what I'm focused on," Reyna said. "I'm focused on the violence that's taking place here, the iron pipeline issues that we have to resolve."

The candidates held differing positions on recent changes to the state bail law, with Archila expressing disappointment in amendments over the last two years that watered down sweeping reforms first passed in 2019. Reyna said she wanted to "fix bail reform" to see fewer people "languish in jail" without elaborating. "But what is also true is that the issues that we see here today, are is a revolving door of criminals, the opportunities to see lawlessness in the streets," she added and said more should be done to improve the discovery process.

Delgado said he supported giving judges more discretion in setting bail, which the recent changes did to some extent, but not as much as is favored by Hochul, Suozzi, and Mayor Eric Adams, who endorsed Hochul on Wednesday morning despite a close alliance with Suozzi and longtime working relationship with Williams, a fellow Brooklyn Democrat.

"I think what happened when the bail reform bill was passed, and I flagged this, back in 2019, when you strip away the discretion from the judges, it can be problematic," Delgado said. "And I think there's been some dynamics there, when it comes to repeat offenders being let back into the very communities that we're trying to protect."

Each candidate expressed strong support for strengthening legal protections and aid for people seeking abortions in New York in the face of the expected end of Roe v. Wade, pending another Supreme Court case where an opinion is expected this month.

No candidate offered a glowing defense when asked whether State Democratic Party Chair Jay Jacobs, a longtime ally of disgraced former Governor Andrew Cuomo, should remain at the head of the party. "I don't. I've only spoken with him once. I'm not a fan," said Archila.

"No, he has not included Latinos in anything he has organized," Reyna said.

"I think it's about what the people decide, what the party decides. It's not my choice to make," said Delgado. Hochul opted to keep Jacobs in place when she became governor in August of last year, and he quickly endorsed her for a full term via this year’s election.

The candidates were asked about policies they support to address New York’s affordable housing crisis.

Delgado called for more investment in transit-oriented housing and development of housing available to all income levels, including what he called workforce development options and the creation of more middle-class home ownership opportunities.

Archila touted her position with Williams to build or preserve over 1 million units of permanent affordable housing, and enact more homeowner and tenant protections. She noted they are the only ticket to support the Good Cause Eviction legislation that has been among the most high-profile bills under consideration in state government but did not pass in the legislative session that just ended.

Reyna called for higher density in commercial, transit-rich areas.

All three candidates called for more regulations on corporate real estate buying, and the movement of permanent housing units to the Airbnb marketplace for short-term rentals.

Asked whether they support a plan in the offing that would lower the threshold for overtime pay for farm workers, Delgado said he supports those workers becoming eligible for overtime after a smaller number of weekly hours (the potential move is from 60 to 40) along with a tax credit for farm owners that was approved in the state budget this year. "I think the budget was able to get it right here," he said. "I think the tax credit that's being provided now to the farmers to make sure they can sustain themselves, while at the same time providing this overtime, is of critical importance."

Archila spoke about the importance of respecting the difficult conditions and rights of farm workers and said she supports the overtime increase and wants to see tax benefits delivered more quickly to farmers rather than being phased in over a decade under the current plan. Reyna said the law needs sufficient oversight in order to be effective.

On the pandemic state of emergency first declared in March 2020 by then-Governor Andrew Cuomo, both Reyna and Archila criticized the state's response. Reyna called the shutdown "a mistake," pointing to the economic consequences. "This is a customer base of many, many small businesses,” she said of the many commuters who began working from home. “And we know that the small business is the local economy of every city," she said.

Delgado indicated support for the measures that were taken, saying they saved many lives, but noted a less drastic solution appears possible in future covid surges. "Moving forward with the science that we now have, the medication that we now have, I would love for us to proceed with caution but to proceed, nonetheless," he said.

Archila said there was more the state should be doing now to protect people from COVID-19. "We…have to make sure that we are investing in the infrastructure of health care and shoring up the systems that allow people to weather the storms," she said.

Early voting in primaries for statewide and Assembly seats begins this Saturday, June 18 and goes through June 26; primary day is June 28.

by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette

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