May 02, 2022 — The New York State legislature approved a bill requested by Governor Kathy Hochul, to allow the indicted former lieutenant governor, Brian Benjamin, to remove his name from the Democratic primary ballot.
Benjamin – who maintains he was wrongly charged for an offense he didn’t commit – said he will sign any necessary paperwork to remove himself from the ballot.
Brian A. Benjamin served as lieutenant governor of New York from September 9, 2021, to April 12, 2022′ He was appointed by Governor Kathy Hochul after she took over the state’s top job from Andrew Cuomo following his resignation last summer. Benjamin previously served as the New York State Senator from the 30th district – primarily based in Harlem – from June 5, 2017, to September 9, 2021. He resigned Tuesday, April 12, 2022, after being arrested and indicted on charges in connection with his alleged participation in a scheme to obtain campaign contributions in exchange for securing a state grant.
Despite Benjamin’s resignation, it proved nearly impossible to remove him from the Democratic primary ballot. Under state election law, a party’s designated candidate could be dropped only in rare circumstances — for instance, if the person died or left the state.
Hochul appealed to legislators for help and on Monday, they delivered. The Democratic-controlled legislature approved a law that permits a candidate to decline a spot on the ballot if the person has been arrested or charged with a crime. Hochul swiftly signed the bill.
Hochul has argued that Democratic primary voters should not have the choice of voting for Benjamin considering the federal charges against him. Benjamin has pleaded not guilty on all counts.
Some Democrats have expressed weariness about passing legislation that would help her politically, especially given Republican attacks on the matter.
“I really, really have difficulty changing things in the middle of the process, whatever that process is,” Senate Majority leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said in an interview aired on WCNY Wednesday. Stewart-Cousins had also asked state Senate Finance Committee Chair Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan) to refrain from introducing a bill into the Senate.
Hochul’s opponents in the race for governor were also critical of the new law.
The republican designee for governor, Lee Zeldin, says the measure might be a good idea for future elections, but he says it should not have been hastily pushed through to benefit Hochul.
“No one has any idea who this mystery lieutenant governor might be on the ballot,” said Zeldin, at an event in Binghamton.
On Monday, Benjamin said that he intends to withdraw from the ballot and expects to prove his innocence. Until then, it is “unfair to the voters of our great state for me to remain on the ballot,” he said.
The controversy over the primary ballot is not the only issue roiling the upcoming election in New York. The state’s highest court recently struck down a redistricting map approved by lawmakers, calling it unconstitutional.
A judge later ordered New York to postpone its primaries for congressional seats until August. The gubernatorial primary is still scheduled to be held in June.
With Benjamin’s name off the ballot, the state Democratic Party’s Committee on Vacancies is free to name a new running mate for Hochul. That vote is expected soon, as May 4th is the deadline to certify the ballot for the June primary vote.
Among those already named by the vacancy committee as potential successors to Benjamin are Assemblymembers Crystal Peoples-Stokes, an African American, who is the current majority leader, Rodneyse Bichotte, the first Haitian American woman elected in New York City, and Catalina Cruz, who as a child moved to New York from Columbia.