On the morning of April 12th, news broke that Lieutenant Governor Brian Benjamin had been arrested and charged with bribery, fraud, and falsification of records after he allegedly conspired to direct $50,000 in state funds to a real estate developer’s charity in exchange for thousands of dollars in illegal contributions to his 2020 Senate campaign and his 2021 campaign for New York City Comptroller, which he ultimately lost. “This is a simple story of corruption,” said Damian Williams, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. “Taxpayer money for campaign contributions. A quid pro quo. This for that. That’s bribery, plain and simple.”
After Benjamin’s arrest, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle began calling for his resignation, and around 5 P.M. that day, Governor Kathy Hochul announced he had resigned. “I have accepted Brian Benjamin’s resignation effective immediately,” the Governor said. “While the legal process plays out, it is clear to both of us that he cannot continue to serve as Lieutenant Governor. New Yorkers deserve absolute confidence in their government, and I will continue working every day to deliver for them.”
When asked if she knew about the investigation into Benjamin, Governor Hochul said, “we did not have the truth at the time the decisions were made.” The Governor said Benjamin did not include information regarding the investigation on the documents he filled out to be considered for the position. “Those were issues that were not addressed on the forms that he filled out for us, but in terms of our knowledge of them, we had been told that every one of them had been resolved, that there had been restitution paid in the past and they were something that occurred before,” she said, adding, “clearly, if I had that information today – that we did not know about subpoenas that were in place back then and questioning – it would have been a different outcome.” She also addressed concerns raised about her administration’s vetting process for the Lieutenant Governor. “We are going to do a much better vetting process,” she said. “We’re going to see if we can do a different approach in terms of getting a clearer picture of exactly what’s out there and if there’s any questions, have they really been resolved or have they not been resolved?”
Shortly after his resignation, Benjamin’s counsel released a statement saying, “there has never been a federal case like this in America. Brian supported a $50,000 grant to Friends of Public School Harlem. Every dollar was to buy supplies for public school students in Harlem. There was nothing inappropriate about this grant. After today’s charges, Brian will resign his duties as Lieutenant Governor and suspend his campaign. He will focus his energies on explaining in court why his actions were laudable – not criminal. He looks forward to when this case is finished so he can rededicate himself to public service.” Although Benjamin has suspended his campaign for Lieutenant Governor, he will remain on the ballot for the June 23rd Primary, since he won the Democratic Party’s nomination in February. Under New York law, the only way for a candidate to be removed from the ballot once they’ve won the nomination is if they move, die, or run for another office.
In a radio interview on April 13th, when asked how she plans on addressing the ballot conundrum, Governor Hochul said, “the laws are very complicated, and I think that’s something worth looking at how difficult it is to have this circumstance happen or other circumstances occur to be able to make a change after a certain deadline. That’s something we’re examining right now, so I don’t know that answer at this moment, but it’ll all be clear as soon as we have a chance to do a dive into what our options are at this time.”
Later that day, Assemblywoman Amy Paulin announced she will be introducing legislation to fix this very issue. “I will soon be introducing legislation to allow a candidate for office to decline their party’s designation or nomination, and be removed from a ballot, if they are charged with a crime,” she said. “A candidate who is charged with a crime prior to the election should be permitted to voluntarily decline the party’s designation or nomination and withdraw their name from the ballot to allow a new candidate to be selected.”
Republicans immediately responded, saying the Democrats are trying to change the rules to work in their favor. “Once again, New York’s Democrat Governor is colluding with the Democrat legislature to sweep their corruption under the rug,” New York Republican Chairman Nick Langworthy said in a statement. “This legislation is a gross abuse of power that is trying to rig the system and cheat their lawful opponents. Not only did they let another dirty politician escape impeachment, but they are now working to rewrite the law to try and save Kathy Hochul’s political career, rather than face the consequences of their actions with the voters. It’s yet another reason why one-Party rule has been a disaster for our state. This entire corrupt cabal must be met with a seismic reckoning this November.” A spokesman for the Senate Majority said that the Senate will not be acting on the proposed legislation this year.
As of right now, Governor Hochul has not chosen a new Lieutenant Governor. Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins will assume the duties of that office for the time being.