Senate Democrats add bill to remove indicted former lieutenant governor from ballot

ALBANY — State Senate leaders introduced a bill Friday night that would remove the name of former Lt. Gov. Brian A. Benjamin from the June primary ballot following his recent indictment on federal corruption charges.

Benjamin, named lieutenant governor by Gov. Kathy Hochul in September after passing a background check, resigned following his indictment. The criminal charges include allegations that Benjamin lied on forms used by state police to review his background. His criminal case derailed the Democratic primary because under state law there is no mechanism to remove a nominated candidate from the ballot so late in the process.

The bill introduced Friday night in the Senate would change that by amending state election law to allow a candidate to decline their nomination — and have their name removed from the ballot — if found guilty or charged with a misdemeanor or felony.

Similar legislation was introduced in the Assembly, but Democratic leaders in the Senate were reluctant to use their legislative powers to change the law with a measure clearly intended to help Hochul’s campaign. Senate and House Republicans criticized the move as a politically motivated abuse of power fueled by Democrats‘ one-party control of state government.

The legislation does not include language indicating that a candidate who declines a nomination due to criminal charges can be replaced, but sources familiar with the negotiations between the Senate and the governor’s office said Hochul believes she will have the power to nominate a new candidate for the office of lieutenant-governor.

Hochul and Benjamin are running on separate tickets, but the political optics of having Benjamin’s name still on the ballot in a year when there are multiple primary challengers, including for lieutenant governor, has concerned the governor and her advisers, the sources said.

State Democratic Party leaders had explored whether they could convince Benjamin to move to another state which, along with the death, is among the New York-limited reasons a nominee’s name can be removed from office. a ballot.

The primary race has been rocky for the Democrats.

Last week, the Court of Appeals issued a ruling overturning the new political boundaries of the state Senate and Congress that had been established by the Democratic-controlled Senate, upholding lower court rulings that the new lines intentionally manipulated for political purposes.

This ruling by the state’s highest court will at least require the Senate and Congressional primaries to be moved from June to August, as the petition process will have to be redone. There have also been discussions among Democratic leaders about whether they should move the Assembly and statewide office primaries to August — including the gubernatorial race. This may also occur if impending legal challenges to these political boundaries are also subject to legal challenge.

State Senate Minority Leader Robert Ortt, echoing criticism from Republicans in both chambers, issued a statement on Saturday morning accusing Democrats of “prioritizing party politics with their latest plan to to change the rules for their own political advantage”.

“Just weeks ago, Senate Democrats across the state happily announced their support for Brian Benjamin,” Ortt said. “Now, days after seeing their gerrymandered district lines thrown out by New York’s highest court, they want to change the rules to allow Kathy Hochul to kick him out of his ticket to protect their political interests.”

Ortt said it was a “repeated pattern of political insider … and New Yorkers deserve better. Any member of the Legislative Assembly who supports this bill is complicit in this corruption and should be held accountable.” eliminated in November”.

Legislation introduced in the Senate, if signed into law by the governor, would still require Benjamin to sign a written declination to have his name removed from the ballot. It was not immediately clear whether Hochul had discussed this with his former lieutenant governor or obtained his cooperation to do so. Benjamin, a former state senator, said he was no longer running for the position, but his name would still appear on the ballot unless the legislation is passed.

Hochul, who became governor in August following the resignation of former Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, is running for a full term this year and said state laws governing the removal of a candidate from the ballot are “obsolete” and should be changed.

“We didn’t have the truth at the time the decisions were made,” Hochul said recently when asked if the state police vetting process had apparently failed in Benjamin’s case.

Benjamin, at the time of his appointment and before being appointed to the position by Hochul last year, was aware of the federal criminal investigation and had received a subpoena from the US Department of Justice.

“Obviously, if I had had this information today – that we were unaware of the subpoenas that were in place at the time and the interrogations – it would have been a different outcome,” recently said Hochul.

The governor added that Benjamin had personally told him that the allegation about his campaign donations had been corrected with the Board of Elections.

Benjamin resigned hours after his indictment was unsealed. Manhattan U.S. Attorney Damian Williams, whose office is pursuing the case, said Benjamin ‘repeatedly told lies’ as part of a cover-up involving a bribery scheme designed to secure large donations for him campaign in exchange for official acts.

The allegations in the indictment are unrelated to Benjamin’s role as lieutenant governor and date from a period when Benjamin was a state senator campaigning for the position of New York City Comptroller. York.

Hochul’s Democratic challengers are U.S. Representative Tom Suozzi, D-Long Island, whose vice-presidential lieutenant governor is New York City Councilwoman Diana Reyna; and New York City public attorney Jumaane Williams, whose running mate is Ana Maria Archila, the former director of Make the Road New York, a grassroots advocacy group.

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