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NYS legislature approves measure to allow former LG Benjamin to be removed from ballot

 New York Governor Kathy Hochul and Lieutenant Governor Brian Benjamin at an event in New York City Aug. 26, 2021.
WAMC screenshot
New York Governor Kathy Hochul and Lieutenant Governor Brian Benjamin

New York Governor Kathy Hochul has signed a just-passed bill by the state legislature to allow former lieutenant governor Brian Benjamin to remove his name from the Democratic primary ballot. Benjamin says he’ll file the necessary paperwork to make that a reality.

The legislation permits a candidate on a primary or general election ballot who is charged or convicted of a state or federal misdemeanor or felony to redraw their name from ballot. Under the previous rules a candidate would have to die, move out of state, or run for another office in order to remove their name.

Finance Committee Chair Liz Krueger is the Senate sponsor.

“Most voters would think it’s common sense to let someone who doesn’t want to be on the ballot, probably isn’t going to be in a position to serve because they are facing an indictment charge, to be able to get off the ballot,” Krueger said. “And that’s what this bill does.”

For this election cycle, the rule applies only to the state’s former lieutenant governor, Brian Benjamin, who was indicted April 12th on federal corruption charges, and who resigned later that day.

Republicans, who are in the minority in the legislature, condemned the bill, saying the measure is not about helping the voters, but about protecting Hochul’s political future.

Deputy Minority Leader Andrew Lanza says without the measure, Hochul would still have Benjamin as her running mate on the democratic primary ballot.

“No one is being fooled either her on the floor, throughout thsi Capitol, or anywhere in New York or America, with respect to what the reason is for this legislation being put before us on the floor,” Lanza said. “It is Governor Hochul who desperately wants this to be law.”

Benjamin just before the vote, released a recorded statement. He said he didn’t do anything wrong, but he needs to spend his time clearing his name instead of running for office.

“I also believe that withdrawing from the ballot is the right thing to do,” said Benjamin. “And that is why I will sign the necessary paperwork to withdraw from the ballot.”

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, and Rodneyse Bichotte, the first Haitan American woman elected in New York City, and Catalina Cruz, who as a child moved to New York from Columbia.

Hochul, speaking just before the vote, says she’s happy a solution has been reached.

“I’m very pleased that my partners in government agree that this is a very important step to take,” Hochul said, speaking after an event in the Bronx.

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.

Zeldin called the action “all sorts of wrong.”

Long Island Congressman Tom Suozzi, who is challenging Hochul in the Democratic primary, says the governor is “gaming” the system.

“There’s no question that this is happening now to save Kathy Hochul’s hide,” said Suozzi. “Or to try to save her hide.”

Suozzi says there are already qualified candidates for lieutenant governor on the ballot that voters could choose instead, including his running mate, Diana Reyna. Ana Maria Archilla is also seeking the post, she is running with New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, who is seeking the governor’s post.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.
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