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The Capitol Connection #2225 - New York Lt. Governor Antonio Delgado

Lieutenant Governor Antonio Delgado speaks at pro-choice rally in Albany
Ashley Hupfl
Lieutenant Governor Antonio Delgado speaks at pro-choice rally in Albany

(Airs 06/23/22 @ 3 p.m. & 06/25/22 @ 5:30 a.m.) WAMC’s Alan Chartock speaks with Lt. Governor Antonio Delgado about leaving Congress to run for Lt. Governor of New York.

I’ve spoken to Lieutenant Governor Delgado for years on my Congressional Corner program when he was serving in Congress. And he joins us today for the first time on the Capitol Connection. Welcome, Lieutenant Governor Delgado.

It's good to be with you. Good to hear your voice. Looking forward to the conversation, my good man.

And you too. Obviously, you were appointed by Governor Hochul after her first pick, Brian Benjamin was caught up in a corruption scandal. How did it come to be that you decided to leave Congress to become Lieutenant Governor—a position you still need to be elected to starting with next week's primary?

Well, it kind of came out of nowhere, in the sense that this was not something that you know, had been brewing or there was any conversations beforehand, or it was an outreach that that happened about six, seven weeks ago now. And when it was presented to me, you know, I thought long and hard about it, I thought about the work that I've been doing in Congress, I thought about how I've been able to connect in my district and build real relationships. And I thought about the opportunity to try to build those same relationships across the entire state, as you can appreciate the congressional district is about 730,000, New York State is north of 19 million. And so thinking about the work that I've been able to do, and thinking about the role New York can play right now, as a leader across the country on important issues, like the right to choose voting rights, making sure that we're dealing with gun violence, the opportunity to step into this role now at this time, felt very compelling to me and important in terms of the work ahead.

So, tell me, what were you thinking? In terms of your career, your family? Obviously, the present governor was once lieutenant governor, and how much does all of that come into play when you're making a decision of this kind?

Well, it starts with the family. First, two little boys, eight year old twins, as you know, my wife. I’m very dedicated to my family, and being able to serve the state, you know, and be home and try to be more present to at home certainly was a big factor. The lifestyle of going back and forth to DC, you know, leaving my kids behind was no doubt a challenge. And thinking about how I could still do the work of serving everybody in the state, while being home meant a lot to me. And I think in terms of the political space, again, understanding that I think what we need right now, in more ways than one, are individuals with voices that have the capacity to unify people—that have the ability to bridge divides. And, as you know, the first person of color to represent upstate New York, in a 90% white district, that is incredibly rural that, Trump won, I think I've established the fact that I know how to connect the dots, I know how to connect people beyond the surface level differences. And I think we need that right now. We need that across the state. And I want to make sure that I'm able to bring that to bear.

I have so many questions to ask you. But one personal question, which I have asked you before, but I can't resist. As a twin myself. How is that? How do you decide how to raise two individual kids who happened to be twins?

It's not easy. You know, they're identical twin boys. They have a lot of energy. They are hilarious. They're bundles of joy, but they're complicated. And they have their own dynamic. And it's unique to them. I tell my wife, we joke a lot. It's like they have their own married couple. And, you know, trying to navigate that dynamic, you know, in a household, with all four of us having a lot of energy and being pretty intense, it gets it gets pretty interesting. But it's fun. You know, at the end of the day, my kids, they ground me. And every day when I think about the work that I'm doing and trying to be the example that I'm being, I think about them, and I think about trying to be the role model that I know not just them, but a lot of young people need right now. We need role models, you know, at every level, especially when we're talking about leaders in the public space.

So your relationship with the governor has to be very important at this stage of the game. You, of course, need to be elected yourself starting with next week's primary. Do you talk to her often? And how does it all work out?

Yes, the Governor and I, we, you know, had spent some time together, not spent time together but talked back in 2019, when she came out to DC to visit the New York delegation in her role as lieutenant governor, and hadn't really communicated much since then. But since the appointment, you know, and leading up to the appointment, we've had, as you could imagine a lot of conversations and have talked frequently, if not every day, at least every other day. And checking in making sure that, you know, we're on the same page about how we're proceeding here. And just thinking about the different dynamics on the ground—sharing information. I think what she's excited about, what I'm excited about is, you know, how I could bring to bear my set of experiences as a member of Congress, and my skill set in delivering federal dollars to the state and to municipalities and to counties, and also continuing to work with my relationships that I've been able to build in Congress, and on a bipartisan basis within the state body. So I think I bring a level of experience, and a skill set, and relationships that for her are going to really complement the work and be active partners in this space. When it comes to policy, when it comes to setting the agenda, I think there's a real appreciation for what I bring to bear. And she wants to make sure that that basically enables the administration to be at its very best. And that's what I'm excited about—is sticking out how we collectively are going to be able to have the biggest impact on the welfare and wellbeing of New Yorkers.

Vinnie in my class at New Paltz used to ask me, so what's it really like? So what is it like to be, you know, a lieutenant as opposed to in charge, the general?

Well, it's definitely a shift in the sense that when you're in Congress, yes, even though you're a part of a caucus, and you're a part of, you know, an entire body of people with a hierarchy and chairmanships and chairwoman ships, there's no question that there's a hierarchy there, you still are within your office, you know, in a position where you are completely setting the table. Obviously, within the confines of the machinery of Congress, but it is you who are setting the table. In this instance, you know, I'm coming in to, at least in the first instance, through this election, I'm coming in introducing myself to the entire state on my own terms. Now, a lot of folks know this, but in the primary, I run separate and apart from Hochul. It's only if, you know, I win the primary and she wins, are we on the same ticket. And at that point, when you're the same ticket, you know, it becomes a more collaborative effort, and understanding like anything, when it comes to being on a team, and I've been on a team, as you know, I played basketball, you know, and so I understand the team dynamic. That's a whole different set of challenges separate and apart from going about something, you know, on your own. And so learning that process, understanding how to still bring what I bring to bear, individually and uniquely, but at the same time think strategically and deliberately about how to complement what the governor does so that we are genuinely effectively having the most positive impact we can have, on the roles that we respectively play. I'm still working with the governor to detail exactly the different areas that I can have a real focus on. As you might imagine, infrastructure is going to be something that for me is very important. Within the umbrella of economic development, focusing on small business growth, there's going to be very, very important. Again, these are areas that I spent a lot of time on in Congress on two committees—small business and transportation and infrastructure—so I'm bringing all that to bear in this new role and, and learning as I go to make sure that I understand how best to effectuate my skill set.

Wow. Let's talk a little bit if we can move over to redistricting. Hasn’t the process of redistricting hurt New York in Congress, for example, your former congressional district, already purple, was gerrymandered and now we see Democrats competing against each other; people like Nadler and Maloney on New York’s West and East side? What's it like to be a congressman and know that you could be done in by the way they redistrict them?

You know, I've been a big proponent of the independent commission process. That's why I supported H.R. 1 when I was in Congress. I think when you put power in the hands of the state body, it can lead to results that, you know, are problematic. And what we have in this instance was a situation where there were lines drawn after the Independent Commission was unable to do its job. And I think the takeaway here is to make sure that when we think about independent commissions, we are creating them in a way, process wise, that the intended outcome actually happens. That we actually get a map that is born of an independent commission, and done in a way that speaks to, you know, making sure that the political process has integrity. So that's to me, the big takeaway from all of this is that we still have a lot more work to do. Even if we say we have an independent commission, to make sure that when we establish an independent commission, the processes in place are such that it delivers what we hope it is going to deliver. Because the moment it doesn't do that, it resets a situation that we know has been the case, not just this cycle, but previous cycles. And all it does is entrench partisanship, as we're seeing all across the country, in different states and in different state houses. And so that is what we really have to make sure that we're continuing to address is how do we speak to the institutionalization of this partisanship visa vie the gerrymandering aspect that has really not been contained, because we are not properly administering independent commissions.

So let me ask you about lieutenant governor, the position of Lieutenant Governor has been described by many pundits as ceremonial and as a basic rubber stamp for the governor's policies. And of course, Governor Hochul, was lieutenant governor and became governor after Andrew Cuomo resigned in disgrace. But how independent can you be as lieutenant governor?

Well, as I discussed earlier, just getting through the primary, there's a process where I'm running separate and apart from the governor. I'm elected by the people of the state. So just by definition, right, I am an independent actor by virtue of the fact that I'm an elected public actor who draws power from the electoral body. So coming into this role, I'm acutely aware of that fact. And I'm here to represent the state, and do so with the understanding that I have an independent aspect to this. That being said, at the same time, when you are collaborating, when you are building with somebody, in a partnership in a team environment, as I intend to be able to do with the governor, you have to think about the ways in which you can complement each other. And think about the ways in which my set of experiences and what I've been able to do in Congress in particular, and the success that I've had, and the relationships that I've been able to build can be beneficial to the work that we collectively do. And how that can ultimately have an impact on the state in a very positive way. This is what I'm excited about. Because to me, I have a whole set of experiences that I know are unique to me, that I know when put together with Hochul will only strengthen the capacity of the administration to do right by the people. You know, having served in Congress, having got 18 bills signed into law, being the first person of color to represent upstate New York, and to come from a working class family, having you know, been able to succeed academically and professionally as a lawyer as a hip hop artist. You know, those types of diverse experiences are mine. And I'm able to bring those to bear in this dynamic and hopefully, do so in a way that is beneficial to New Yorkers.

I have a colleague, who I very much respect and like, but he made a little mistake. He said, we don't like hip hop music up here in upstate New York. Like you are proud of it, the fact that you've done this work and that you are you have a hip hop background?

I proud of hip hop, proud of being a hip hop artist, I'm proud of the fact that I've been able to do all these different things in different spaces at different times. Because all of it has enabled me to be in a position now. Where I genuinely believe that I'm able to walk into any room—you know, no matter what the color of people are in that room, their religion, their gender, sexual orientation, whether they're rural community and urban community, whether they're rich, whether the poor, everything in between, it doesn't matter. I'm going to be able to figure out how to connect, because that's my life experiences growing up in Schenectady in a working class family. You know, spending a lot of my time in church, going off to Colgate and studying at Oxford overseas, getting my law degree and then not just being a hip hop artist for five years, but then becoming a litigator lawyer at a corporate law firm in midtown Manhattan. So these are all a collection of experiences that I think, put me in this position to pull from, and engage with people in different ways. But importantly, in an authentic way, you know, I'm also I used to play basketball, as you know, right. So, being somebody who played collegiately, you know, as a division, one athlete, all of these things feed into my capacity to try to figure out how to first and foremost find common ground with people and then build on top of that common ground.

Indeed, let me ask you shift to a different area. You know, the country has been besieged by these mass shootings. And New York State's gun control response, the Buffalo and other mass shootings in recent weeks has resulted in some of the strictest gun control laws in the US. So, is it enough?

No, it's not enough, obviously, we need more to happen at the federal level. Because ultimately, if we don't have some type of infrastructure across the board, to protect families, protect our children. And I can tell you, you know, as a father, it breaks my heart, what, what our families are going through the loss of life, the loss of their innocence, their children, I can't, I can't, I can't imagine it. We can, we've been out front as a state. But I think there's always more work to be done. Because it's not just about, you know, raising the age or addressing unlimited magazine capacities or, you know, not allowing folks to have body armor, all these things that were a part of the last go around of bills to address this issue. It's also about beyond the mass shootings, the daily shootings that are happening in our communities all across the state and the conditions that give rise to those to those actions. Because when people are being fed a pipeline of guns illegally, that pipeline needs to be shut down, it needs to be stopped. Because it's going into the communities that are already hurting, that have already been neglected, and already struggling. And so we have to be very thoughtful about making sure that we're getting out in front of that pipeline of illegal arms being delivered to communities that are already being subjected to marginalization and neglect, making sure that we're supporting those violence interrupters on the ground, who are doing important work, but also building out community opportunities, community based opportunities after school programs before school programs that allow our kids to get off the streets and not resort to crime. That's also very, very important. But no doubt, we have to step up at the national level, to accomplish some baseline things. And I know that some movement is happening right now, in Washington, I think that's a good development. And hopefully it can, it can, you know, get through, which is a good step. But obviously, we got to build on that step, to make sure that we are to the best of our abilities, preventing these tragedies, no one action we do is going to prevent, you know, any tragedy or every tragedy that comes about, but the fact that we don't do anything in the face of tragedies, time and time again? It's completely irresponsible and offensive, and a slap in the face to our young people and to families all across this country who are counting on leaders to step up and be responsible and responsive to what's happening across the country and in our respective communities.

Let me ask you this, the Supreme Court—what can we all do as the court allows people to carry concealed weapons?

You know, the notion that the Supreme Court would actually even be considering this on the heels of what we've experienced in Texas and in Buffalo, and, you know, of late. It's shocking. It really is a shock to the conscience. The capacity of the Supreme Court to operate in this way, totally divorced from reality, is deeply unsettling. As Lieutenant Governor and I know, Governor Hogan has the same mindset, our focus is going to be to see what the court rules, what the opinion is, what the holding is. And then at the same time, be prepared to figure out what kind of policies can be put in place, what kind of steps can be taken in light of whatever that this ruling might be to, you know, mitigate the impact of it. The notion that we think it's okay, here in New York, to have folks just walk around with concealed weapons, it is not the approach that the vast majority of folks here would subscribe to. And so I do think we have a responsibility as leaders in the state to figure out how to best reflect the genuine will, of the people, irrespective of what the high court thinks is appropriate.

To be a little bit about abortion, you earned 100% voting record from Planned Parenthood voting to protect the right of abortion, even if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade. Does this put you in any political vulnerability?

This fact again, that we're in a position where the Supreme Court will unwind decades of precedent, precedent decades. And in doing so, rollback all the gains that women have made, and in advancing the cause of equality, and control, and autonomy over their own bodies, is, again, unconscionable that the Supreme Court feels like it is okay to move in this direction. We are in the 21st century. And we have got to be in a position where women are treated equally and have control over their bodies. And the notion that they can't, women are not able to make these kinds of health based decisions as it pertains to their bodies is a roll back to a time where the hierarchy in society was male domination. Just like when you enter into a marital relationship some decades ago, when women were not viewed as independent actors, but the property of their husbands. This is akin to that. And it is incumbent upon those of us who believe in equality, who believe that women should have control over their bodies, and in particular, making healthy decisions about their bodies are able to do that. It to me it's a pretty clear, clear dynamic. You know, there are there are moral questions, separate and apart from what politically matters in terms of how the state functions, and what the state is responsible for. And the state body should not be dictating for women how to make choices about their body.

Let's remember that we are talking to Lieutenant Governor Antonio Delgado, a former congressman from the 19th district, a former congressman. Climate change, are we doing enough?

We certainly have a lot more work to do. I know New York is I think aggressively and rightfully so making the shift away from reliance on fossil fuels and more and more on renewable energy from solar to wind turbines, to geothermal. It's incredibly, incredibly important. Also investment and, you know, electrification, electrifying, I think our school buses should be important for our commercial buses. Anyway we can move in a direction where we are getting off of our reliance on fossil fuel is critically important. We know that the impact of climate is that climate change is directly correlated with carbon emissions. So our work should be to focus on how we reduce carbon emissions. When I was in Congress, I talked about this with you, I worked on a bill that would create jobs, the kind of jobs you have to fill, to bring down the net carbon emissions count, consistent with the IPCC has recommended by 2050. So we have to be very intentional about creating the workflow and the workforce development piece, and the kinds of jobs that we know are going to have the impact the extreme weather events are causing havoc, they're causing havoc, the flooding, that is happening. The inclement weather makes it hard for our farmers upstate. It's just really not helpful in any way, shape, or form. Both on a moral standpoint, because only have one Earth, but also economically, you know, we're being impacted in this. And from a health perspective, because you see it, as you know, in upstate New York with the ticks dynamic, that dynamic is born of climate change, as well as becoming more intense as a result of climate change. So whether it's health, whether it's our safety, in terms of our agricultural and economics, or whether it's the moral imperative, there are a lot of ways in which we have to move forward on climate change, and I'm definitely hoping to be our friend on this issue as well.

OK, Lieutenant Governor Delgado, let me ask you one last question, because we have less than a minute and my question is, do you want to be governor?

I want to be exactly where I am, which is Lieutenant Governor serving the people of the state. I've come to appreciate the fact that looking ahead at whatever might come or will come is not helping you do what you are doing in the present. And so for me, focusing on what's right in front of me focusing on the work that I can do, it's my first statewide run, hopefully, it's my first opportunity to serve a full term, in a statewide role. And that means a lot. It's exciting to me. And I know it's a tough time for folks. And I'm just hoping to be able to be in a position where I can be a voice of a younger generation that's hopefully emerging right now, as this country is making the transition as our state is making a transition through various power dynamics, and understand that we have to step up and be better. And I'm just happy to be a part of, of this process, and want to do my best to inject some more positivity some more energy into our electorate, because our democracy needs it. Our democracy has to be based on our intense belief in it. We have to be inspired to believe in this and that's the work that I want to do.