ALBANY — Thursday marks one year since Schenectady-native Antonio Delgado became lieutenant governor. The Democrat was chosen by Gov. Kathy Hochul and sworn in following the resignation of former state Sen. Brian Benjamin following charges of corruption. Delgado previously served as congressman in the former New York District 19, representing parts of the Mohawk and Hudson valleys. The Leader-Herald sat down with Delgado to reflect on his first year in the role and what he’s learned from his experience as the state’s second-in-command.
Question: You’ve been lieutenant governor for one year. What experiences stand out for you?
Answer: I think it’s been an incredibly rewarding experience this year, transitioning from representing 11 counties at the federal level to basically taking the entire state now and learning every nook and cranny traveling, as I did in Congress, but now across the entire state from downstate to upstate, Western New York and everything in between and learning about the issues that affect people’s lives in meaningful ways. The chance to really connect with people in a state as diverse as this one has not just been inspiring, shows how special this state actually is.
And I would say it’s been a learning experience transitioning from the legislative side into the executive side and thinking about the different skill sets that apply in that regard. So, a lot of growth and a lot of meaningful experiences in a very condensed period of time. I should say a lot of things happened in one year.
Q: You mentioned traveling. Part of the role as lieutenant governor involves traveling all over the state. Is it difficult to fulfill that role when you have a family and children?
A: You have to understand, it’s all relative to what I had. So, for me, the biggest adjustment is that I’m not traveling to [Washington,] D.C., and leaving my family behind for weeks at a time in some cases. I’m in New York, for the most part, every single day. I am able to walk my kids to school in the mornings, or at least try to create a team where that can happen as often as possible. There’s a lot more stability for both my wife Lacey and for our children, Maxwell and Coltrane, and so to be able to have that stability and security again, again in comparison, is priceless. Yes, I’m on the road a lot, but for the most part, I’m able to get home and go to bed in my home with my family, wake up even if it is super late at night or I have to get up early and leave, I’m still home. My family gets to see me and we don’t go through these gaps of time where the best we can do is FaceTime. And I think that, as a father, that has made the world of difference. My boys are nine [years old]. They turn 10 in August and it’s a very important time in their lives, and so to be home the way that I am, and doing the work of public service, it’s really the best of both worlds. It’s just constant effort and work, but it’s the best. It’s the best experience, best job — though I don’t mean to call it a job — it’s the best role that I have and everything I do in life.
Q: Former Congressman Lee Zeldin, a Republican, ran for governor last year and got more votes than many people expected. How do you speak to those voters, and what do you think it says about the upstate/downstate divide?
A: I can speak to my own set of experiences when I was in Congress. I served in a district that was a very politically diverse district. [One] third independent, third Democratic, third Republican. It went from [Barack] Obama, to [Donald] Trump, to President [Joe] Biden. So one of the things that I’ve tried to do is meet people where they are and, before getting into any one specific issue, connect on a human level, be transparent and be accountable and try to figure out whether there’s some real common ground, and I think that’s where I’ve been able to help build some bridges. I think I’ve tried to be more of a unifier than a divider and to make sure that people feel that I genuinely care about them and want them to live lives that they feel excited about what the future might hold for themselves and their children, for the grandchildren. Whether that was in Congress, in the town halls or whether that’s now when I’m going in and out of schools, hospitals, small businesses and farms and continuing to engage with people across the political spectrum. Making sure that before anything else, we connect in a real way and in a human way. I think so much of our politics right now has been dehumanized and we’ve forgotten that we’re people and that we all have a set of experiences that are different and it’s incumbent upon us to figure out where there’s commonality.
Q: Speaking of your old district, what is formerly Congressional District 19, it flipped Republican after you became lieutenant governor. Do you feel you conceded that district to Republicans?
A: Well, I think it’s important to understand that my old district has changed. There was a special election that occurred afterwards and [former Ulster County Executive] Pat Ryan ultimately was able to finish out my term. And then we had redistricting and my district is now District 18. So, it’s a different dynamic. My heart will always be with the good folks of that old New York district, whether it’s in Dutchess [County] or Oswego County or Delaware County, Sullivan or Rensselaer — you name it, and everything in between from Schoharie [County] to Greene County — my heart will always be with those folks and I will always serve them, and I am serving them now as lieutenant governor.
Q: You mentioned the change in politics in recent years. How has bipartisanship changed since you started in public office?
A: There’s a rigidity now to how we communicate with each other. It’s very hard. It’s either all or nothing, and that leaves little room for compromise or for even any attempt at mutual understanding. I had a district that voted for Trump and yet a lot of folks who supported him but also connected with me and, getting a sense of who I am as a person, supported me. And as a person of color in a very rural district that was 90% white, I think we demonstrated that there is a way in which you can connect with people and do that work, and I took that same approach when I was in D.C. When you try your hardest to think about where there’s common ground and where there are issues that you can build with people across the aisle. I’m not going to sit here and try to act like it’s all rosy. It’s not, and it’s very ugly, and there are some dark forces out there. But, that doesn’t mean that you can’t find meaningful opportunities for success and that’s why I was able to get 18 bills signed into law while I was in Congress — 10 of those were under Trump, eight of those under Biden, and the vast majority of those bills were bipartisan bills. I take a lot of pride in the fact that I was among the most bipartisan members of Congress and that doesn’t mean not being true to your principles or values, what it means is figuring out how to do that while at the same time being very intentional about being effective and getting things done. And yes, there appears to be fewer and fewer individuals within the political space that are as committed to that, but that doesn’t mean that one should not continue to press forward and continue to figure out where the opportunities lie. The people are owed that. They’re owed that type of commitment. And the moment they figure out or they conclude that that is no longer their priority, then you’ve lost people’s belief in the legitimacy of the system itself, and the trust and faith, and that is what I am deeply concerned about. Is watching the loss of faith in democracy.
Q: How has being from Schenectady influenced your politics and your role as lieutenant governor, if at all?
A: Very much! Schenectady is a working-class city. [General Electric] was a major employer for a long, long time in Schenectady. My parents worked for GE. I grew up with that classic story of working up into the middle class, we started off over on Duane Avenue when I was a little kid, near Hamilton Hill, and I watched my parents work us up and move us from different neighborhoods to different neighborhoods, and to a bigger apartment, to finally our first home in my freshman year in high school. I know how important those jobs were for them and that they had reliable income. They could come home and build a routine around me and my little brother and say, ‘Okay, we’re going to come home. We’re going to check your homework and make sure you stay on top of your books, because that’s going to be your gateway to opportunity.’ And so, I’ve lived that story of upward mobility that for a lot of folks is so often the case. That type of story is now falling through the cracks more often than it should be. And so, whether it’s my upbringing with parents who worked for GE, or whether it’s my upbringing at church, or my upbringing just being in Schenectady and having the mentors and the teachers, people who the were part of the village and looking after me, I’m very indebted to Schenectady and it is home to me in so many ways.
Q: How do you think the state is doing with getting jobs like GE back to these areas in upstate?
A: I think we’re doing pretty well. I think the way I look at this is that we’re not going to go back and just redo what we’ve done. The world has changed too much with the global marketplace, global trade, with the pace of inflation and just how competitive the marketplace is. We can’t expect that we’re just going to have anchor employers in every single part of the state. That’s a critical component, if we can get it. For example, we have Micron [Technology], right? So, the more that we can pull in those types of employers by properly investing in things like semiconductor manufacturing, the chips manufacturing — which we should be a leader on, and we are — or whether it’s in the climate space, as well with renewable energy, there are ample opportunities to figure out how to draw in those anchor employers. But, I do think that it’s incumbent upon us to get beyond just that model and invest in communities to create jobs and support those small businesses that are along the main streets all across upstate New York. From Dutchess [County] to Greene [County] to Schoharie [County] — you name it. These are the types of opportunities that we at the state level need to be more focused on and that’s why the Downtown Revitalization [Initiative] funds are so critical. We are driving money into these communities, and those communities are creating the proper planning to make sure it creates jobs that are sustainable, that pay livable wages, and that can support families. And I think if we piece that approach together, along with the New York Forward program, and just make more investments, again, in climate, I think we have a recipe to create a more diversified portfolio of opportunities for people when it comes to economic growth and prosperity. That is the goal. It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. It can’t be and I think the governor and I are both working in partnership to figure out how to bring it all to fruition.
Q: What would you say are the key issues or the big issues that you work directly with the governor about?
A: The thing that we both relate to each other on is the Economic Development Council piece and when she was lieutenant governor, she chaired the EDCs. I am now the chair of these councils and I think in our conversations we both talk quite a bit about how to really utilize these to maximize them to the fullest potential. A lot of times the councils can be directed on how they want to prioritize or what kind of projects they want to prioritize. And I think she and I both agree that we want investments in distressed communities and our communities that often get overlooked or marginalized or underserved. We can prioritize and incentivize the councils to deliver funding to those communities. Another area where we’ve collaborated quite a bit on is the Hate and Bias Prevention Unit. The governor has looked around and thought, ‘Okay, we’re living in a climate that’s incredibly divisive, that’s full of extremism and hate.’ We’re seeing it not just in our own state, but we’re seeing it across the country, and we as New Yorkers need to lead. We always have been, I would argue, the standard bearer for progress for this country. Whether it’s the right to vote for women, whether it’s the right to choose, whether it’s the labor movement, whether it’s the environmental movement. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was founded here. We’ve always been out front for gay marriage. We know how to set the bar and I think with all the hate, we have to take the lead here to demonstrate what it means to love and have compassion. When she decided to create the Hate and Bias Prevention Unit as part of the [state] Division of Human Rights, and put me in as chair, I think she understood and I certainly appreciated this. She saw in me the ability and the capacity to figure out how to be a unifier, having served in upstate and figured out how to work with folks from all different walks of life to find that common ground. I take a lot of pride in trying to figure out how to deliver that in a meaningful way. We’re excited that we just had our first big unity summit and then we just rolled out our first council meeting in Southern Tier. Later on today [Tuesday], I’ll be going into Central New York and also to the Finger Lakes. I’ll be doing two more council rollouts over the next 48 hours and the goal is to have 10 councils total, all operating with volunteers based within the community to figure out how to be more preventative when it comes to hate, and how we create more opportunities for constructive conversations.
Q: There is a long history of the lieutenant governor being seen as marginalized and tossed aside. It was no secret former Gov. Andrew Cuomo and then-Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul did not work closely together. How much of a role with the governor do you have in the day-to-day goings on at the state Capitol, such as the budget, the end of session?
A: The governor and I have a very good working relationship. We talk at least once a week about any number of issues, whether it’s the news of the day or whether it’s conversations at the budget negotiations, or whether it’s thinking forward about what we want to accomplish in the next several months or years ahead. This constant collaboration is not just between me and the governor, it’s our teams. Our teams, separate and apart from us, also are having weekly conversations constantly checking in to figure out how I can help on any number of substantive issues and so, like I said, I think our relationship is a strong one.
Q: Is there anything you’re trying to do differently with your role from previous lieutenant governors?
A: Well, I don’t want to compare myself to previous lieutenant governors. I can just say that I’m excited about what I am doing. I think we all serve in different times and there are different demands. When I look out at the times we’re living in now, I know that there needs to be more voices out there that are committed to love and that are committed to compassion, and I feel like we’re in a desperate time for that right now, and so I feel very humbled to be in a position where I can try my very best to be that kind of voice.
Q: Do you still speak to House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries or Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer on a regular basis?
A: I’m in touch for sure, though I wouldn’t say it’s frequent, but we definitely maintain contact. I was able to sit down with Minority Leader Jeffries the last time I was in D.C. several weeks ago, or a month or so ago now. I’m always maintaining that communication and look forward to continuing to build on it. If you look at what the federal government has done for the state of New York with infrastructure, with the CHIPS [and Science] Act, Inflation Reduction Act, these are opportunities for us in New York to really leverage. We have so many resources coming in by way of the federal government, and particularly with leadership from Jeffries and also with leader Schumer. So, New York is really well positioned to really take advantage of what is happening at the federal level, to invest in our infrastructure, to invest in roads and bridges and to invest in broadband to make sure that we’re creating good-paying jobs and doing it with labor in a meaningful way.
Q: Could it be a potential boon for New York to have both leaders, if the House flips Democratic during the next election, of Congress and Senate be from New York for the first time in history?
A: It just speaks to how important New York is and how we continue to be moving forward, not just in terms of how we better the lives of New Yorkers, but how we set the bar for the rest of the country. We have an opportunity here to be effective and to restore people’s faith in thoughtful, compassionate, responsible government. For New York to be out front, as it should be in that regard, matters a lot, particularly as a New Yorker through and through. We do have a lot of work ahead of us, but I do think, as you point out, we were already pretty well positioned but we could even be better positioned.
Q: Outside of your current role of lieutenant governor, what do you think the future holds with you?
A: First of all, my future is my work today. That’s my future every single day: figuring out how to do this job. That was exactly what I did in Congress. I woke up every day and I figured out how I was going to do that challenge. I didn’t say, ‘I want to do this, this and this.’ I just did the work, and ultimately that work led to something that I didn’t even see coming. All I can do is dedicate myself to the work that I’m doing and I find great meaning and purpose in it, I genuinely do. Not a day goes by that I am not incredibly grateful for the opportunity to wake up and look in the mirror and see somebody who’s dedicated to serving the public and that I have somehow managed to find myself in a position where I can do that work every single day. That is my job, to serve the public, and that, to me, is priceless. So, I can’t look ahead. All I can do is be very present and be grateful for the opportunity to serve right now.
Q: Lastly, what would you say is the No. 1 lesson you’ve learned as lieutenant governor?
A: Wow. I mean, I’ve learned a lot of lessons. I’ve learned a lot of lessons. I guess I’d say gratitude. It kind of speaks to the last point that I made. I really can’t underscore how the responsibility of being a statewide actor is significant. I don’t know if it’s a lesson, but it’s an insight and something for me that opens up more compartments in my sense of awareness about the world and about being a leader and being responsible for the future, because it makes you humble, hopeful and it makes you grateful. And for me, personally, I know it makes me determined. And I think I can’t ask for more from the work.
Staff Writer Ashley Hupfl can be reached at [email protected]