SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Gov. Kathy Hochul tapped a prominent Hispanic New York City legislator to become the next secretary of state as she moves to woo the crucial Hispanic vote in what is expected to be a bruising Democratic primary battle for governor next year.
Hochul nominated veteran East Harlem state Assemblyman Robert Rodriguez to become secretary of state. Rodriguez, who is Puerto Rican, has stood out as a champion of charter schools.
A graduate of Yale and NYU, Rodriguez has also worked in public finance.
The governor announced the Rodriguez appointment during the five-day Somos conference taking place in San Juan, where New York’s movers and shakers annually gather to discuss issues important to the Hispanic community but also to cut side deals and alliances.
Hochul, the former lieutenant governor, became New York’s chief executive over the summer after disgraced ex-Gov. Andrew Cuomo resigned following a sexual harassment scandal.
Her expected main rival for the Democratic nomination for governor next year, state Attorney General Letitia James — who is also at Somos — issued the damning investigative report that found Cuomo sexually harassed or mistreated 11 women, forcing him to exit under the threat of impeachment.
Hochul, who is from Buffalo, needs to make inroads in New York City’s minority communities to keep the governorship.
She previously appointed Harlem state Sen. Brian Benjamin as her lieutenant governor as she seeks to make inroads in the black community. James, who is black, is from Brooklyn.
One longtime political operative said the Rodriguez appointment was a deft political move by Hochul.
“She’s trying to make news at the conference and that’s definitely one way to do it, by giving a well-liked and well-respected official a big spot,” said John Desio, who was at the Somos conference.
“It is a move that shows she’s very serious about courting the community.”
Rodriguez will replace current Secretary of State Rossana Rosado, whom Hochul nominated to be commissioner of the state Division of Criminal Justice Services.
She also recommended that Minosca Alcantara be appointed executive director of the New York State Bridge Authority. Alcantara is currently a construction executive at the MTA.