Brooklyn Councilman Jumaane Williams formally launched his bid for lieutenant governor of New York on Friday afternoon, vowing to “bring a whole new identity” to the position that has traditionally been used as a surrogate for the governor.
In January, Williams—a two-time City Council speaker candidate—formed an exploratory committee to challenge Lieutenant Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Democrat. In August, he said he was not ruling out a gubernatorial bid.
The lieutenant governor, who also serves as president of the state Senate, has a $630,000 annual budget and does not have much clout with respect to policy.
In New York, the lieutenant governor and gubernatorial candidates run separately during the primary, but the victors share a ticket during the general election. The primary is on Sept. 11. The general election is in November.
Williams argued the office has “never been used to its full potential,” contributing to the public’s lack of understanding about its strengths and capabilities.
“I think I bring a whole new identity, a whole new way of looking at the office,” he said at a rally at City Hall launching his campaign. “The fact of the matter is whoever ran with the current governor was going to be his lieutenant governor. I reject that. We need to be a people’s lieutenant governor. We have our own identity, our own set of things to do, and that’s what’s needed right now in the state of New York.”
When asked by Observer why he opted to run for lieutenant governor instead of governor, he denied ever entertaining a gubernatorial bid. If Cuomo and Williams were to win their respective primaries, Williams would have to work with a governor he has oft critiqued.
Earlier this month, Cuomo, a Democrat, said that he wants Hochul to be his running mate again. Hochul told The Buffalo News in January that she wants to run with the governor again, denying a rumor she was eyeing her former seat, currently held by Rep. Chris Collins, an upstate Republican.
Williams said he is seeking the Democratic line and is focused on winning the Democratic primary, insisting he would not support any Republican candidate. And he maintained that if the governor is O.K. with him working independently as lieutenant governor, “then fine.”
“If I’m running on the Democratic line, I’m gonna be running as a ticket but I am independent,” Williams continued. “I will have an independent voice.”
Each state’s constitution indicates who steps in for the governor in the event of a vacancy, according to the National Lieutenant Governors Association (NLGA), a group formed in 1962—and that official is an NLGA member.
In 45 states and four territories, the official has the title of lieutenant governor, the NLGA said, while three states and one territory have a secretary of state. In West Virginia and Tennessee, the senate presidents are legally allowed to use the title of lieutenant governor.
There are 26 states with team elections for governor and lieutenant governor in the general election, including New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Connecticut, according to NLGA. Seventeen states elect the governor and the lieutenant governor separately, such as Missouri, West Virginia, Vermont and New Hampshire—all of which have governors and lieutenant governors who are in different parties.
Williams acknowledged that the race will be “challenging” but noted he is not afraid of a challenge.
“We don’t need elected officials who taste the flavor of the month and say, ‘I’m gonna do that’ or put their finger in the air to test which way the winds are blowing,” the councilman added. “We need people who are gonna be steadfast in what they’re doing. I wanna be part of the folks behind me… who are creating progressive winds all across the state, all across this country.”
He has received endorsements from Queens Councilman I. Daneek Miller, Queens Councilwoman Adrienne Adams, Brooklyn Councilman Brad Lander, Brooklyn state Assemblywoman Rodneyse Bichotte and some upstate elected officials. His sister and other groups, such as the Brooklyn Progressive Action Network, also lent support.
The councilman vowed to focus on issues such as homelessness, the city’s struggling subway system, affordable housing, education, lack of diversity in state government and corruption in Albany. He recounted being called hateful names and getting arrested several times, insisting he is a “productive activist.”
“Together we can prove that activist energy can overcome establishment money,” he said. “Together, we can reject the politics of cautious inaction. Together, we can amplify the voices of all of those who aren’t being heard in New York. Together, we can renew focus on our most basic principles of justice and equity. Together, we can win this campaign to bring true progressivism to the capital. It is time.”
Former State Senator Terry Gipson, a Democrat, is running against Cuomo. Possible Democratic challengers are former Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner and actress and education activist Cynthia Nixon.
When asked by Observer whether he would back Nixon, Williams said he is undecided.
“I gotta say, I’m excited about the prospect of a female governor in the state of New York, but I haven’t made a decision either way,” he noted.