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Ana María Archila promises activist approach to New York lieutenant governor position

The Democratic candidates for New York lieutenant governor debate on June 15, 2022.
Spectrum News
Spectrum News
The Democratic candidates for New York lieutenant governor debate on June 15, 2022.

With early voting underway for Tuesday’s primary in New York state, three Democrats are running for lieutenant governor. It’s a key race, because governors and lieutenant governors are nominated separately in the primary. New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams’ running mate is activist Ana Maria Archila.

Archila faces Tom Suozzi’s pick, former New York City Councilor Diana Reyna, and Lieutenant Governor Antonio Delgado, a former Hudson Valley Congressman tapped by Governor Kathy Hochul in May.

For people hearing this interview who may be registered Democrats and haven't made up their mind yet ahead of Tuesday's vote, what's your message to them?

Well, I'm Ana María. I am a mother, I'm an immigrant, I’m a queer Latina, and I have spent the last 20 years building and leading organizations that fight for everyday people. And the fact is that in New York, we live in one of the richest states in the country, but also one of the most unequal. Most New Yorkers are struggling to make ends meet. And this is because of decisions by politicians who always prioritize the demands of billionaires above the needs of working families.

And the fact is that it is not too much to ask for our state government to focus on investing in housing and health care, and childcare and real safety. Instead of saying yes to a billionaire who says give me a stadium in a city like Buffalo where half of the children live in poverty. It's really not too much to ask for our state government to choose real people above real estate, especially in a moment when people are so stressed out about the cost of housing. And so I have decided to run for lieutenant governor to essentially demand that our state government focus on the needs and priorities of working families, the Lieutenant Governor's have always functioned as just ceremonial roles that are often rubber stamps to whatever the governor says. But that is the wrong way to approach these roles. This is this is an office directly elected by the people. Its power derives from that fact, its mandate derives from that fact.

I will be a lieutenant governor, who will not stay quiet standing in the background, but actually wake up every day to lift up that need to make investments in affordable housing, to make sure that we are raising the wage right now. We cannot ask people to do magic with money they do not have. We need to make sure that the richest New Yorkers are contributing their fair share. And we need to invest in the things that keep people safe and make people whole. On June 28, you have the opportunity to elect a lieutenant governor who will be an independent voice, always fighting for working families. And that's Ana María.

Specifically speaking, what would you do as lieutenant governor? Because you're saying you'd be an activist lieutenant governor, you've said that on the campaign trail. But constitutionally speaking, the office has its limits. So what would you do differently as a lieutenant governor? I mean, are you going to be proposing legislation? How do you see that role playing out?

Yeah, so the lieutenant governor has two sort of constitutional responsibilities. One is to preside over the Senate. And people usually have done it in a very ceremonial way, passing the gavel to the speaker or the leader of the Senate, the majority leader, but I think that the lieutenant governor could and should play a more active role in shaping the conversation, helping shape the agenda, and the Senate. And as well, the lieutenant governor is, you know, the person that takes over the governor's role if the governor is incapacitated or resigns. And obviously, that's an important responsibility in order to be able to assume that responsibility, the lieutenant governor cannot be just a quiet person, a rubber stamp in the back. The lieutenant governor has to be actively trying to shape the governing agenda, making sure that the priorities that are the most important for people across the state are actually at the center.

What I envision, and usually lieutenant governors just go around the state, representing the governor, cutting ribbons, and taking assignments from the governor. But there is nothing in the state constitution that says that that's what the lieutenant governor needs to do—just take assignments from the governor, but quite the opposite. It's an office directly elected by the people so I want to use it as an ally to people who are organizing on the ground to lift up the priorities that they need addressed by Albany. For example, rural communities have been saying, for decades, we need to invest in broadband, we need to make sure that we bury that powerlines underground so that we don't lose electricity every time it rains. These are basic infrastructure needs that should have been addressed long ago, that the money is there to make these things happen but the priorities are never those. Because the governor's office is always encircled by a fortress of lobbyists and donors from the industries that dominate the debate in Albany, like Wall Street and the real estate industry the cryptocurrency industry now, and they drown out the voices of everybody else.

So I want to use them within a governor to amplify the voices that get drowned out and to partner with legislators to advance an agenda that meets people's needs, and to partner with the governor to make that agenda happen, but to also be able to stand up to the governor when he or she fails to actually focus on the needs of people above the needs of donors.

Well, we have seen throughout history that many times a governor does assign the lieutenant governor to a ceremonial role. Even Kathy Hochul has acknowledged that was largely the case in the Cuomo administration. But also when lieutenant governors have won a primary election and gotten into office, like when Mario Cuomo had Al DelBello, they have frozen out the lieutenant governor. So how would you get along with someone who might be governor who was not your running mate?

I think when Governor Hochul was the lieutenant governor, she was pretty frozen out. And if I were here, I would not have just expected that the power that that I had was deriving from the governor. She was directly elected by the people. She should have used that fact as her mandate to speak up when people were being sent to nursing homes positive with COVID-19. She should have used that fact to elevate the needs of communities that are always left behind and that were left behind under Cuomo. That's what I plan to do. I think it's a misunderstanding of the lieutenant governor's office to assume that you simply do what the governor says, that you simply take assignments from the Governor. It is not a very useful office to people if that's how you conceive it. I see the fact: this is an office directly elected by the people. It must have a mandate that is attached to that. I want to use it to talk about the things that people need.

People need Albany to address the housing affordability crisis. People need Albany to raise the minimum wage. People need all them to tax the rich, instead of continuing to play the burden on working class and middle class families to sustain our public infrastructure. People need Albany to take real action on climate change. We cannot wait. We cannot wait. People drowned in their basement apartments in New York City last year, the subway lines flooded. Climate change is real. And that is happening right here. And when we don't take action, we're actually taking people's lives. So I want to bring this urgency to that office and make it useful for people going around the state cutting ribbon does not actually address people's needs. There is nothing in the state constitution that says that that's the only role of the governor, the lieutenant governor is directly elected by the people and it should be useful to the people.

What is the case against the incumbent Lieutenant Governor Antonio Delgado, who's been in there only for a matter of weeks, but is a former two-term Hudson Valley Congressman?

I mean, the case is that he's essentially just embodying the lieutenant governor role in a way that is more of a more like a yes-person than a fighter. The fact is that, you know, the 20 years that I have been fighting to make sure that Albany addresses the needs of working families, the governor's office, whoever was in that office, was an obstacle. When we wanted to win protections for tenants when we wanted to increase the minimum wage when we wanted to make sure that young people could access college, we always had to overcome the governor’s block or the governors was an obstacle and the lieutenant governors were nowhere to be found. Not useful, not allies. And Antonio Delgado has entered these arena, you know, because the governor, instead of allowing an election that was already underway between two existing candidates for lieutenant governor, after her previous lieutenant governor was arrested and resigned, instead of allowing a fair election, she decided to change state law and introduce a new person into the race, Antonio Delgado, and he has come in taking millions of dollars that people gave him to defend that swing district that he was representing, and instead of doing that he's pouring it into his campaign. He's accepting a million dollars from a cryptocurrency billionaire who is trying to prevent the state from regulating the cryptocurrency industry that's destroying the Finger Lakes region with, you know, old fossil fuel power plants, and he's just demonstrating that he's essentially going to be a quiet person in the background instead of speaking up for people. What is the point of being there? If you're not going to use your voice, what is the point?

Several recent lieutenant governors have become governor in New York State. David Paterson, Kathy Hochul. But David Paterson had experience at top the state senate Kathy Hochul had been in Congress. What qualifies you to be governor, if that eventuality came to pass?

I have spent 20 years building and leading organizations that fight for people that actually change the dynamics of power so that working families get respect and actually get solutions from our government. The organization that I have built are powerhouses. I have built an organization Make the Road New York, one of the largest immigrant rights organizations in the country, from being a tiny, tiny group of people to an almost $15 million organization that is effective in addressing—demanding that government you know, help address the needs that people have and respect the contributions of immigrants.

I then went on to build a national organization with presence in 33 states and Puerto Rico, an organization that I built from an idea to a $35 million organization, the Center for Popular Democracy was at the front fight against the Trump agenda, preventing his efforts to roll back the ACA, the rollback of Obamacare, fighting back against the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. I have dedicated 20 years of my life, to fight to make sure that the voices of people who are always drowned out by moneyed interests are at the center of our public debates. Nobody else in this race has the 20 years of executive experience. Also, nobody else in this race has presented a vision of how to address people's needs on housing, how to make sure that our economy is working for people, how to make sure that we are actually investing in real public safety, starting with investments of a billion dollars in gun violence prevention programs. Nobody else in the race has bothered to put together a robust policy platform that presents the solution so that people know what exactly we are fighting for and who exactly we're fighting for.

I think that being serious about policy, having a track record of fighting for people having a track record of meeting teams, is essential to be able to assume the lieutenant governor's role with rigor with responsibility with vision, and also to be prepared to assume a governing responsibility if that were to happen. But I want to say that I really hope that we end the streak of governors who implode in scandal because they behave unethically. I hope that New Yorkers have the certainty that they can vote and who they vote for will behave with integrity and will not be resigning in shame and scandal.

Ana María Archila is one of three Democratic candidates running for lieutenant governor in Tuesday's primary. Thank you for taking the time to speak with us and good luck.

Thank you so much.

A lifelong resident of the Capital Region, Ian joined WAMC in late 2008 and became news director in 2013. He began working on Morning Edition and has produced The Capitol Connection, Congressional Corner, and several other WAMC programs. Ian can also be heard as the host of the WAMC News Podcast and on The Roundtable and various newscasts. Ian holds a BA in English and journalism and an MA in English, both from the University at Albany, where he has taught journalism since 2013.
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