Lt. Gov. Antonio Delgado says he's learned a great deal after a year as the state's second-in command, jumping into the role last year in the middle of a gubernatorial election campaign. But questions remain about the amount of time he's spent in the shadows, and largely out of public view since winning last year's statewide contest.
Delgado, a Democrat, took the oath of office May 25 after former Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin resigned last April amid federal wire fraud and bribery charges, which were dismissed in December.
A Schenectady native, Delgado formerly represented 11 upstate counties for nearly two terms in Congress before assuming his current role. In the last 15 years, two New York lieutenant governors have replaced governors forced from the Executive Chamber amid scandals.
Two of New York's lieutenant governors have become governor of the state in recent years after past executives have resigned in scandal.
It's a position Delgado says he's ready to assume if need be.
"Getting around the state, learning the state — getting to all the counties has been really rewarding," Delgado told Capital Tonight in a sit-down interview Thursday.
Delgado spent Thursday in Albany reflecting on his first year in office with reporters, and to hold the Capital Region's first Hate and Bias Prevention Unit's Regional Council meeting after a statewide uptick in hate crimes.
The lieutenant governor chairs of the Hate and Bias Prevention Unit and is overseeing the rollout of the councils in the state's 10 regions. Each council is comprised of local officials, representatives from the legal system and religious and nonprofit organizations who will work to equip communities with tools to fight back against violence rooted in discrimination.
"What we've learned is that if you're not intentional about unity and love and mutual understanding and tolerance, then dark forces will take root," Delgado said. "And I think leadership dictates a lot of this, too. And so it's incumbent upon us at the state level to figure out how to foster that type of communication."
As Delgado works on incidents related to bias, he's recently come under fire for remaining largely absent during the state budget process and staying out of the public eye during significant state decisions.
The lieutenant governor serves as a bridge between the governor and the Legislature, and Gov. Kathy Hochul failed to get support for her proposed housing compact in the budget to build 800,000 new housing units, or to support her first chief judge nominee Hector LaSalle. The Senate Judiciary Committee and full Senate voted to reject LaSalle in February.
Delgado says he met with lawmakers in the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian legislative caucus during budget talks. He put out a public statement supporting La Salle earlier this winter, but said Thursday he largely discussed the judicial nomination behind closed doors.
"For me, it's important, particularly as somebody who is out and about in the state as she was when she was lieutenant governor, that what's more important, from our vantage point, is that I'm understanding how to have these communications with folks on the ground and then speak with her about those communications and engage and collaborate and build from there," Delgado said. "That, to me, is where I'm of best use at this particular time. And I think the more we continue to grow and develop over time, and the more I'm able to facilitate these conversations, the better the state will be."
Delgado says he and Gov. Hochul speak weekly, either in-person or on the phone, depending on their schedules and travel.
The lieutenant governor says he and the governor have a strong working relationship, and dismissed a question about what they disagree about.
"I don't even know if it's a matter of disagreement," he said. "My job as lieutenant governor is to figure out how I can provide my perspective. I'm not the governor, I'm the lieutenant governor, and I'm also my own person, right? So I'm going to always bring my perspective to the table with an eye toward figuring out how to be the best contributor that I can be to any situation."
Gov. Hochul is leading communications with the White House and President Joe Biden's administration as the state seeks federal assistance to respond to tens of thousands of migrants arriving in New York.
The lieutenant governor has not spoken with officials in Washington, D.C., about how to best house people seeking asylum.
Years failed federal immigration policies and action from U.S. administrators has deepened the stress of the state's communication with local governments, Delgado said.
Dozens of counties have issued states of emergency and that they refuse to accept asylum seekers.
"We need to be in a position where we can constructively communicate," Delgado said. "We can never let the complexity of this problem bring out the worst in us.
"We're going to do everything we can at state level to solve for this problem in a constructive and collaborative way," he added. "We all know at the end of the day, we have to get to a place at the federal level where we're solving for this issue."
The lieutenant governor represented a largely rural Congressional district that leaned heavily Republican, but flipped it purple at a time when elections grew more politically divisive.
He was named one of the most bipartisan members of Congress while in Washington, and says he continues to lean on that experience to unify New Yorkers.
"How do I take different points of views, different perspectives and sort of be that individual who has the capacity to see what the outcome can be in a constructive and effective way?" Delgado said. "I think the governor sees that in me and I think I've tried my best to be that type of advocate. ... I just hope that New Yorkers continue to, you know, come together."