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Can Ana María Archila make history?
I spoke with Ana María Archila about her historic campaign for Lieutenant Governor. Later, I share my own thoughts on the rollercoaster primary, preview the race, and assess her path to victory.
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“It felt like the election was going to be a coronation.”
“And coronations never work for poor people.”
When I asked Ana María Archila about running for office for the very first time, all while challenging New York State’s political establishment, that is what she said.
Archila’s campaign for Lieutenant Governor is historic in many ways. If she is victorious come June 28th, she would become both the first Hispanic person and the first openly LGBTQ+ person ever elected to statewide office in New York.
“The value of representation cannot be just symbolic, it has to make a material difference in people’s lives”
Editor’s Note: New York City has also never had either a Latino or an openly LGBTQ+ person elected to citywide office. Herman Badillo, Fernando Ferrer, Christine Quinn and Corey Johnson came the closest.
As leftist coalitions have mounted significant wins throughout the five boroughs in recent years, a breakthrough at the statewide level has remained elusive. In 2018, both Zephyr Teachout and Jumaane Williams came close in a year defined by progressive advancement. While the political climate was more opportune for left gains four years ago, the progressive movement of today is stronger overall.
Williams is back again for his second statewide bid, this time running for Governor - on a ticket with Archila. Facing Kathy Hochul, who has banked over twenty million dollars and pre-emptively consolidated enough support to nudge Tish James out of the race early, will be immensely challenging.
Yet, the Lieutenant Governor’s race, increasingly defined by volatility amidst one of the most chaotic election cycles in state history, is seen as one of the progressive left’s biggest opportunities this summer - a chance to exert power - both outside and in - the State Capital. Benjamin’s exit and Delgado’s entrance does not change that calculus.
Often maligned as merely a ribbon-cutter sidelined by the administration, the Lieutenant Governorship proved integral to the ascension of Mario Cuomo, David Patterson, and of course, Kathy Hochul.
Backed by the Working Families Party, Make the Road Action, NYPAN, and other left-aligned non-profits - progressive energy for Archila has risen the past few weeks, as Congressman Jamaal Bowman, State Senator Alessandra Biaggi, and State Assembly Member Jessica González-Rojas endorsed Archila.
A June election date, amidst a bifurcated summer primary season, could lengthen the left’s bandwidth, enhancing their ability to prioritize this race.
Archila told me she has “never been in a battle that has not been uphill.” This race will prove no different.
Already, the state’s most powerful interests have coalesced with the hopes of diminishing her chances. Hochul, in spite of Benjamin’s departure, remained determined to not only remove him from the ballot - but select a replacement that could run in the primary - unenthused with Archila’s momentum and the prospect of her victory.
“The industries that dominate: real estate, Wall Street, health care executives - get the ear of those who govern. And that leads to an equation where people lose.”
Ana María Archila was shaped by the environment of her youth, and the unpredictability that came with it.
Growing up in Colombia during the 1980’s and 90’s, Archila witnessed the ascent of drug cartels and their emerging stranglehold over the nation’s politics - culminating in five assassinations during the 1990 presidential campaign.
Amidst the civil unrest, Archila drew inspiration from her father, a union organizer and human rights worker. Her roots in progressive organizing can be traced back to him.
When Archila left Colombia at the age of seventeen, joining her father - who had left eight years prior - in Queens, she figured the visit would be brief: “I thought I would learn English, make some money, and then go home.”
Yet, in the challenging but formative years ahead, Archila told me “this country became my home.”
“While I went from a society that I sort of understood - Colombia was more controlling and stratified in some ways, especially for women. In the United States, I was very anonymous but also free. That sense of uprootedness shaped a lot of my politics.”
Archila’s aunt, a lawyer by trade who initially cleaned homes upon emigrating to New York City, started to organize small groups of Latino immigrants in Woodside, Queens - forming the Latin American Integration Center. Ana María wanted in, eager to work with young immigrants like herself.
The perfect opportunity presented itself. Her aunt was opening up a storefront in Port Richmond, Staten Island. What appeared on the surface to be worlds away - the immigrant rich Queens and notoriously whiter, more conservative Staten Island - was not such. Port Richmond hosted a large day labor community, many of whom were Spanish speaking immigrants.
“I found myself in a community of young immigrants who were living the lives of adults. These were young kids who had crossed the border themselves, some of whom were as young as fifteen years old.”
Every day, Archila would teach English classes in the evening, while helping workers recover unpaid wages throughout the day. She met countless young people - fresh off 10-12 hour work days in restaurants or construction sites, many of whom were paid half of the $5.50 minimum wage at the time - who still consistently showed up everyday with enthusiasm to learn English.
“They had dreams for themselves and vision for their lives. The embodiment of resilience.”
While Archila went on to help build Make the Road New York and the Center for Popular Democracy, she credits “that tiny storefront on Port Richmond Avenue” for showing her that people’s hardships are often driven by policy.
Despite never before running for office, Archila has a higher profile than most political newcomers.
In 2018, she gained nationwide headlines for confronting Arizona Senator Jeff Flake in an elevator during Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings. The moment, captured on live television, was precipitated by Flake releasing a statement indicating his intention to vote “yes” on Kavanaugh’s confirmation, a day after Christine Blasey Ford testified under oath that Kavanaugh attempted to sexually assault her thirty-five years ago. While Flake avoided eye contact, Archila stood in the elevator door, refusing to budge. Moved by Ford’s testimony, she told Flake of her own sexual assault.
“I told it because I recognized in Dr. Ford’s story that she is telling the truth. What you are doing is allowing someone who actually violated a woman to sit on the Supreme Court. This is not tolerable. You have children in your family. Think about them.” (TIME)
Flake then amended his “yes” vote, providing the stipulation that the FBI must investigated Kavanaugh further before the Senate proceed. He did not run for re-election.
As the confrontation became a hallmark of the tension between Democrats and Republicans during Kavanaugh’s confirmation, Archila became a lightning rod - eliciting praise from the left and condemnation from the right.
In spite of a rash of negativity, including death threats, Archila says she felt the outpouring of support for her story far outweighed the vitriol: “When people attack you, there are way more people who show up and tell you they have your back.”
While the confrontation with Flake had absorbed most of the headlines, throughout the Trump administration, Archila held a series of media appearances which highlighted the breadth of her activism - from speaking out against Trump’s punitive immigration policies to the neglect of Puerto Rico by U.S. officials in the wake of Hurricane Maria.
Recently, Archila had resumed a lower profile, even stepping down from the Center for Popular Democracy - her first real break in years.
However, the Working Families Party soon called, and approached Archila about running for Lieutenant Governor on a ticket with Jumaane Williams. She seized the historic opportunity.
Eager to “use the bully pulpit of a campaign to talk about who people are,” Archila wasted no time in calling out the Governor for letting both the eviction moratorium and the excluded workers fund expire.
“The reason why I jumped into this race was to create space for the voices that are often ignored - unfortunately in New York, that is most people.”
Inspired by Francia Marquez, an Afro-Colombian environmental activist running for Vice President in her home country, Archila “wants dignity to become a habit in the state of New York.”
“The homeowner in Orange County being crushed by property taxes and healthcare costs while fighting to keep their small-business alive - I have that person in mind - as well as the workers on the North Shore of Staten Island and the young black and brown kids sandwiched between violence and over policing”
Brian Benjamin’s downfall was as sudden as it was spectacular. Charged with bribery, fraud, and falsifications of records, Benjamin surrendered himself to authorities on Tuesday April 12th. With his political future near its end, Benjamin announced his resignation hours later - the tenth person to serve in one of New York’s top four positions (Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, Comptroller) who has resigned in disgrace amidst scandal since 2006.
For Governor Kathy Hochul, who a week earlier declared she had the “utmost confidence” in Benjamin amidst the prospect of a federal probe, the tide had turned against her hand-picked Lieutenant Governor rather quickly.
At the urging of the Harlem political establishment - including figures like former Congressman Charlie Rangel, NAACP President Hazel Dukes, and Manhattan County leader Keith Wright - Hochul tapped Benjamin as her LG last October in an ill-fated attempt to appeal to New York City’s Black voters, as the prospect of primary challenges from both Attorney General Letitia James and Public Advocate Jumaane Williams loomed on the horizon.
Ironically, Hochul had heavily considered selecting a Latino politician from New York City as her Lieutenant Governor, having rumored interest in both ex-Bronx Borough President Rueben Diaz Jr and State Senator/Bronx Democratic Chair Jamaal Bailey - before ultimately choosing Benjamin.
Yet, after wrestling with the legislature to roll back bail reform and provide $850 million in funds to build the new Buffalo Bills stadium during the annual budget negotiation, the Governor still somehow had leftover political capital. This week, in a close 33 to 29 vote, State Senate Democrats passed a bill allowing Hochul to both dump Brian Benjamin from the ballot and select a replacement for the June Primary. The seven-member committee on vacancies, along with the Governor, settled on Rep. Antonio Delgado.
An eleventh hour turn that immediately shook up the race.
It is notable that Hochul, who once pledged to do everything in her power to help Democrats maintain their slim House majority, poached Delgado from a swing Hudson Valley congressional district. Amidst this year’s redistricting fiasco, while the new contours of Delgado’s old seat are still opaque, the following is clear: Democrats are now on the backfoot in NY-19 at a time when they can ill-afford to lose any more ground.
As a purple-district Congressman, Delgado carved out a reputation as one of the most bipartisan, centrist legislators in the country - and is firmly in line with Hochul as a political moderate. While legislators downstate have migrated leftward to insulate themselves from leftist challengers, Delgado has shown no such inclination - declining to support a myriad of progressive legislation, from Medicare For All and Green New Deal to the cancellation of student debt.
Delgado, 45, had reportedly grown weary of the House, and his pivot to state government certainly makes sense strategically. Instead of perpetually having to defend his seat every two years, only to sit in the Congressional minority - he can grow his name recognition outside the Hudson Valley and better position himself, if he wins, to run for Senator or Governor one day. Many of the state's largest labor unions, who have thus far opted to stay neutral in the Lieutenant Governor’s primary, will likely opt to defer to the incumbent ticket, or just stay out altogether.
The prevailing question will be whether Delgado’s fundraising prowess - a prerequisite to surviving two cycles in a swing seat - and newfound alliance with Hochul can overcome his electoral base being located outside of New York City and its surrounding suburbs.
Delgado is a late entrant to the race that already features two Latina candidates, Archila and Diana Reyna. A former City Council Member and Deputy Brooklyn Borough President to Eric Adams, Reyna is no stranger to history herself, having been the first Dominican-American elected to public office in the state.
Preceding her career in office, Reyna served as chief of staff to infamous Brooklyn Democratic Leader, Vito Lopez, whose backing was instrumental in helping propel the twenty-seven year old Reyna to City Hall in 2001, where she represented the 34th Council District - Williamsburg and Bushwick.
However, Reyna soon distanced herself from Lopez, who became increasingly abusive towards her after she ended their “personal” relationship. As their feud escalated into the public eye, Lopez backed district leader Maritza Davila in a primary challenge against Reyna in 2009.
Reyna’s subsequent triumph over Lopez and his machine marked the beginning of the end for the county boss, who infamously resigned from the State Assembly three years later following an ethics investigation into his sexual harassment of female staffers.
Editor’s Note: When Reyna was termed out of office in 2013, Lopez - already engulfed in scandal and declining health - attempted to succeed her in the Council, only to be defeated by Reyna’s Chief of Staff, Antonio Reynoso.
After having been out of politics for over four years - she left the Eric Adams BP administration in 2017 - Reyna joined Long Island Congressman Tom Suozzi’s Gubernatorial ticket in February as a candidate for Lieutenant Governor.
Suozzi, whose stock transactions Business Insider rated as “Dangerous”, proudly brands himself as a “common-sense Democrat.” Together, both Suozzi and Reyna have consistently prioritized addressing crime, emphasizing a need to further roll back bail reform laws that have polarized the electorate heading into the summer primaries.
As crime and safety continue to rank as the premier issue for Black and Latino New Yorkers, the prevailing narrative of how to best address the uptick in gun violence will be heavily litigated throughout the campaign, as was the case in last June’s Mayoral Race.
Reyna has publicly supported keeping police in schools, maintaining NYPD Vice Squads, and allowing judges to consider “dangerousness” when deciding whether to keep defendants behind bars. All of which Archila has spoken out against.
The policy discrepancies between the candidates do not end there, as this campaign has many political fault lines.
Archila supports ending qualified immunity for police officers, term limits for statewide office holders, and has disavowed corporate PAC money. Reyna has not.
Perhaps most consequentially, with a looming rent hike of anywhere between 4-6% for New York City’s rent stabilized apartments, coupled with market-rate rents rising 20% higher than pre-pandemic levels - the Good Cause Eviction Bill - and Archila’s support and Reyna’s opposition - is set to become a key point of contention in the primary.
The bill, sponsored by State Senator Julia Salazar, would give every tenant in the State the right to a renewal lease while requiring landlords to justify rent increases above 1.5% of the consumer price index. If passed, the legislation would prevent no-fault evictions, requiring landlords to have “just cause” to evict a tenant in an unregulated or “market-rate” housing unit, per Housing Justice For All.
Editor’s Note: In March, eleven members of New York City’s Congressional delegation signed a letter in support of Good Cause Eviction. Antonio Delgado did not sign.
While the Suozzi-Reyna ticket bears a close resemblance to the Hochul-Delgado pairing in many respects, the former has drawn scrutiny for attempts to curry favor from the Democratic electorate’s most Conservative, and fringe members.
Case and point: Reyna’s decision to accept an endorsement from ex-Bronx City Council Member Rubén Diaz Sr. - who infamously stated that the City Council was “controlled by the homosexual community”, an afront to both Speaker Corey Johnson, and the LGBTQ community at large. This marked the second time in less than a week the ticket had come under fire for ignoring homophobic implications, as Suozzi was quoted telling a conservative radio host that the radioactive Florida “Don’t say gay” law was “reasonable,” - in an exchange Archila called, “very disheartening.”
The demographic backdrop of the primary is also quite notable, given the dearth of Latino leadership statewide throughout New York’s history. Despite the continued growth of the state’s Latino population - 19% statewide, 28% in New York City - Latinos have been shut out of statewide elected office.
Both Archila, as a Colombian Immigrant, and Reyna, as a Dominican-American, have made Latino representation a core tenant of their respective campaigns.
Delgado’s sudden entrance into the race has brought this question to the forefront once more. The former Hudson Valley Congressman identifies himself as “Afro-Latino” and is a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
However, Delgado, clarified on Tuesday he was not Puerto Rican - as many thought - but noted his African American and Cape Verdean ancestry - Cape Verde, a former Portuguese colony, is off the coast of Africa. This admission drew considerable attention.
Josefa Velázquez, a Senior Reporter from The City, tweeted in response to the story: “Cape Verde is not in Latin America, therefore Delgado is not Latino.”
Gerson Borrero, a political commentator, also weighed in: “He was a boricua/Latino for a time when it was good for him. What’s really disconcerting is that I think Governor Kathy Hochul also thought her pick was Puerto Rican/Latino Black.”
Editor’s Note: In a recent NY Post piece, “the Hochul campaign revealed that Delgado does have a maternal grandfather with Mexican, Venezuelan and Colombian roots.”
Essentially, in a race solely between Archila and Reyna, a Latina was guaranteed to win statewide office. It’s quite plausible that Hochul, unwilling to concede entering the primary without a running mate, yet aware of the poor optics associated with replacing Benjamin on the ballot with a non-Latino, opted for Delgado to assuage both concerns - only to find out that such trepidations may not have been alleviated.
In a race featuring three candidates with Latin ancestry, it is worth paying close attention to how the different Latino enclaves - from the South Bronx to Yonkers to Hempstead to Upper Manhattan - throughout the City and State cast their ballots.
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So what is Ana María Archila’s path to victory? In my opinion it rests on three factors.
Hochul’s pick of Delgado - while sound strategically - does open the door for the possibility of a downstate consolidate (of sorts) around Archila. A big domino to fall came minutes after this piece first published, as Rep. Nydia Velázquez, the first Puerto Rican woman elected to Congress, backed Archila. If Archila can further coalesce most of New York City’s progressive elected officials early, it could go a long way to both convincing voters that Archila is viable and other entities less favorable to progressive politics to stay neutral, out of fear of winding up on the losing end. While Governor Hochul can attempt to marshal support quickly for Delgado, the drama concerning the process that placed him onto the ballot amidst Benjamin’s departure - akin to changing the rules late in the game - is a ready-made excuse for anyone that already had mixed-feelings weighing in on her behalf.
Running up turnout in New York City will be tantamount to an Archila victory - thus accentuating the importance that Archila nabs both the endorsements of The New York Times and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Archila appears to have the inside track with the latter, as she was Ocasio-Cortez’s guest to the 2019 State of the Union, and the two are said to be close in real life. Out of all the important progressive races throughout New York State this summer, I am most confident that AOC will weigh in on this one. While Ocasio-Cortez may have more mixed appeal at the statewide level, her ability to influence turnout and enthusiasm in New York City, particularly amongst younger, left-leaning voters in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens is second-to-none. Her effect on the polling numbers of both Brad Lander and Maya Wiley last summer was pronounced, and if she can channel her appeal into moving votes in a statewide race, it could bear well for a future Senate run. I believe AOC will wait until late May / early June to endorse Archila, with the hope of maximizing the ripple effect (donations, engagement, etc.) - not too early, not too late.
In 2018, The New York Times backed Jumaane Williams for Lieutenant Governor against Hochul. While it is unlikely they endorse Williams again versus the incumbent Hochul - The Times endorsed Cuomo four years ago - when in doubt, they will likely side with the New York City-based candidate. I predict the NYT will wade into the Lieutenant Governor’s race and endorse Archila, as they have previously backed activist candidates before, like Tiffany Caban in 2019. Archila’s impressive grassroots organizing will be received favorably by the Editorial Board, as they will be eager for Archila to provide a check on Hochul - especially after the Buffalo Billion and Benjamin’s collapse. To boot, Delgado’s vote to send troops to the southern border in 2019, coupled with Reyna’s more conservative posture - leads me to believe both candidates will encounter resistance for the endorsement.
If both The New York Times can generate support from upper-middle class liberals (think the Upper West Side and Park Slope) and Ocasio-Cortez can spur turnout amongst young, leftist voters (think Western Queens and North Brooklyn) and Archila can successfully makes durable inroads with the City’s working class, she will not only generate the necessary vote totals in the five boroughs to cushion her margins elsewhere throughout the state, but engineer momentum that will buoy her in other, high turnout enclaves with anti-establishment tendencies - like in Albany, Tompkins or Columbia Counties, all of which were won by either Williams or Cynthia Nixon in 2018.
With congressional and state senate lines still unknown, the one true constant in New York politics is unpredictability. As many are forced to recalibrate their election calendars for a longer summer, a breakthrough could be on the horizon.
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