Gov. Kathy Hochul became the first woman to helm New York state government in an official swearing-in ceremony at midnight on Aug. 24, a minute or two after Andrew Cuomo's scandal-plagued resignation took effect.
She has vowed to "clean house" as far as the "toxic" workplace environment referenced in the state attorney general's sex harassment report and committed to running for a full four-year gubernatorial term once she wraps Cuomo's.
Hochul announced top appointments to her administration in her first few days, naming state Sen. Brian Benjamin of Harlem her lieutenant governor. Karen Persichilli Keogh is secretary to the governor, while Elizabeth Fine is counsel to the governor. Learn more about Hochul's seniormost trio from their official bios below.
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On Benjamin, Hochul said, "I believe that governing is about working together. Teamwork is the essence of effective leadership, and it is more important than ever as we confront the urgent problems facing the state. My administration is going to attract the best and the brightest -- people who share my values of working hard for the people of this state and who will get the job done - and that includes the newest member Senator Brian Benjamin who has agreed to serve as my Lieutenant governor. There is so much work to do, and I am grateful to have him by my side as we implement our vision for a safer, healthier and fairer New York."
The other two appointments were announced before Hochul officially took the reins of power.
“Karen Persichilli Keogh and Elizabeth Fine bring the depth of knowledge, leadership and experience that it will take to meet the challenges New Yorkers face,” Hochul said this week. "As governor, I will assemble a strong team to turn the corner on the pandemic and serve the best interests of New York, whether it's defeating COVID, getting more people vaccinated, or strengthening our economy."
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Benjamin was born in Harlem to a Caribbean mother who came to this country seeking new opportunities. Though they didn't have a college education, his parents were fortunate enough to find well-paying union jobs, which allowed them to provide Benjamin and his siblings with a middle-class upbringing.
After graduating from high school in New York City, Benjamin sought the quality education his parents had dreamed of providing him with, earning his undergraduate degree in Public Policy from Brown University and his MBA from Harvard Business School.
After school, Benjamin returned to Harlem to build affordable housing, creating over a thousand units of environmentally sustainable, affordable housing at an MWBE while helping young people develop work skills and secure good construction jobs through community youth programs.
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In his community, Benjamin worked to preserve the character of Harlem and help keep the community affordable. He helped young people at Harlem's Wadleigh High School achieve a brighter future since launching a mentoring program in 2013, and he is honored to serve as an alumni-elected trustee of Brown University. He is also an active member of Harlem's historic First Corinthian Baptist Church.
During his time in the New York State Senate, Senator Benjamin successfully pushed for the divestment of the state public pension funds from private prisons in 2018, and the following year he introduced a bill to forbid state-chartered banks from such investments as well, which helped pressure Bank of America to end their relationship with Geo Group and Core Civic.
Benjamin's proposal to keep rent-controlled apartments affordable was a part of the history-making Tenant Protection Act of 2019, the largest expansion of tenant's rights in decades. In his first term, he served as ranking member of the Senate Committee on Civil Service and Pensions, where he looked to defend the public pensions of hard-working public servants like his parents while ensuring the pension money was invested in a manner that reflected New York's values.
Karen Persichilli Keogh: Secretary to the Governor
Karen Persichilli Keogh brings over two decades of operational and managerial experience to the incoming administration. For seven years, she served on then-Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton's senior staff as New York State Director and campaign manager for her successful 2006 Senate re-election. Ms.Keogh managed the then-Senator’s statewide staff, played a vital role in the aftermath of 9/11, including health funding for first responders, and fought to keep military bases open across New York State, including Fort Drum in Jefferson County, New York.
She managed U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand's transition from the House of Representatives to the U.S. Senate and served as a senior political advisor to Mayor Michael Bloomberg's 2009 campaign. She most recently served as the Head of Global Philanthropy at JPMorgan Chase & Co., where she managed $2 billion in global philanthropic investments. She joined JPMorgan Chase in 2010 as Managing Director and Head of State and Local Government Relations.
Ms. Keogh was born and raised on Long Island (Nassau County) and received her Bachelor of Science in Social Work from Stony Brook University and her Master's degree in Clinical Industrial Social Work from Columbia University. She and her husband live in Brooklyn and are so proud of their beautiful daughter Jessica.
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Elizabeth Fine: Counsel to the Governor
Elizabeth Fine is Executive Vice-President and General Counsel of Empire State Development (ESD), New York’s economic development agency. As chief legal officer of ESD, she is responsible for all aspects of legal representation, guidance, and policies for the state’s principal infrastructure and business development entity. She has a long career in public service at the federal, state, and local level.
She served as General Counsel of the New York City Council from 2006-2014. She was responsible for all aspects of legal representation for Council and Speaker.
Previously, during seven years at the U.S. Justice Department, she was Counsel to Attorney General Janet Reno, and Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Policy, among other roles. She served as Special Counsel to the President in the Clinton White House in 1993 and was a counsel to the Clinton-Gore campaign.
She began her career as Counsel to the House Judiciary Committee, working on intellectual property and prison oversight. Ms. Fine is a graduate of Brown University (B.A.), New York University School of Law (J.D.), and Georgetown Law.
Jeff Lewis: Chief of Staff
Jeff Lewis was appointed as Chief of Staff to the Governor on Sept. 8. He had previously served under then Lt. Gov. Hochul as her Director of External Affairs and Chief of Staff. He has also worked on campaigns for other New York politicians, and in staff roles on the Democratic Congressional Committee and in the U.S. House of Representatives, where he worked for Hochul during her time in Congress. Linda Sun and Melissa Bochenski will serve as Deputy Chief of Staff.
Other appointments made on Sept. 8 include Julissa Gutierrez as Chief Diversity Officer; Shirley Paul as senior adviser; Sinead Doherty as Deputy Secretary for Executive Operations; Padma Seemangal as Deputy Secretary for Policy Operations; Hazel Crampton-Hays as Press Secretary; Jelanie DeShong as Assistant Secretary for Intergovernmental Affairs; Devan Cayea as Director of Strategic Planning and Scheduling; and Fohat Aird-Bombo as Director of Advance.