Brian Benjamin Won’t Be on the New York Ballot After All

ALBANY, NY — Brian A. Benjamin, the former New York lieutenant governor who resigned after being indicted on federal bribery charges, will no longer appear on the state Democratic primary ballot after legislation passed on Monday made it possible to remove him.

The measure is widely regarded as an accommodation to Gov. Kathy Hochul, who had publicly appealed to Democratic leaders of the Assembly and Senate to change the law, after other efforts to remove Mr. Benjamin from the ballot had stalled.

The bill passed by the Senate and Assembly will allow candidates who have been arrested or charged with a misdemeanor or felony after being nominated to be removed from the ballot if they do not intend to serve. Ms. Hochul is expected to sign the bill into law shortly.

Mr. Benjamin released a statement on Twitter Monday, saying that he would sign the necessary paperwork to remove his name from the ballot. “I am innocent of these unsubstantiated charges. However, I would be unable to serve under these circumstances,” he said.

Under the old law, candidates who had formally accepted a party’s nomination could not be taken off the ballot unless they died, moved out of state or were nominated to another office. People who have been convicted of felony are eligible to run for and hold public office under New York law, although a politician convicted of a felony while in office will be removed, according to the state Board of Elections.

If Ms. Hochul, a Democrat, had been unsuccessful in changing the law, she would probably have faced the awkward scenario of running in November with a running mate who had been the designated No. 2 of one of her Democratic primary opponents.

Democrats to Ms. Hochul’s left and Republican were characterized the move as an abuse of power, saying that Ms. Hochul should not have been allowed to change the rules midstream because it suited her.

“The rules of democracy really matter,” said Ana Maria Archila, an activist who is running to be lieutenant governor. “And how you do democracy, how you participate in it is actually the way that you demonstrate your commitment to it.”

“Anyone else find it frightening that the Governor — the most powerful person in NY — is changing the rules of the election they are running in mid-game to help them look better in said election?” Robert G. Ortt, the State Senate minority leader, wrote on twitter.

Leaders in Albany had also initially expressed skepticism, with the Senate leader, Andrea Stewart-Cousin, saying she “really, really, really” did not like the idea of ​​changing election laws a campaign was already in progress. Some of her Democratic colleagues in the party’s progressive wing chafed at the idea of ​​offering Ms. Hochul political favors after bruising budget negotiations.

But the lawmakers softened over the weekend, with many embracing the idea that it did not serve voters’ interest to keep someone like Mr. Benjamin, who has no intention of serving, on the ballot.

“There’s always that extreme example that leads us to the change. That’s all this is,” said Assemblywoman Amy Paulin of Westchester, a bill sponsor. “This is so that voters are voting for someone who intends to serve. This isn’t about politics.”

Political observers noted, however, that the optics of sharing a ticket with someone who is under federal indictment were obviously less than ideal for Ms. Hochul. Mr. Benjamin has pleaded not guilty.

The governor, who is seeking her first full term, enjoyed broad popularity when she ascended to the state’s highest office after her predecessor, Andrew M. Cuomo, resigned amid allegations of sexual harassment. Mr. Cuomo has denied wrongdoing.

Ms. Hochul quickly set to work building a campaign that would raise more than $20 million in record time, making her the prohibitive favorite for the Democratic nomination.

But a difficult budget process, in which Ms. Hochul extracted $850 million in funding for a new stadium for the Buffalo Bills, as well as changes to the state’s bail laws, eroded much of the good will she had with lawmakers. Her standing with voters has also suffered, with a recent Siena College poll showing approval ratings in the mid-40s — though she has only just begun to spend some of her campaign funds on ads highlighting budget achievements.

Under the new process, Mr. Benjamin’s replacement will soon be selected by a committee on vacancies, with Ms. Hochul likely to have some input.

The chosen candidate will compete against the running mates of Ms. Hochul’s opponents: Diana Reyna, a former New York City councilwoman who is running alongside Representative Thomas Suozzi of Long Island; and Ms. Archila, who is running with Jumaane Williams, the New York City public advocate.

It is likely that Ms. Hochul will appoint her new running mate to fill the post of lieutenant governor until the end of her current term, though it is possible that she will name an interim placeholder.

Lawmakers of all political persuasions voiced their views on the floor Monday, with some saying the measure would unfairly assist Ms. Hochul, and others calling it a common-sense solution.

“I don’t think the public thinks having an indicted person on their ballot somehow strengthens their rights,” Senator Liz Krueger, the bill’s sponsor, said.

In the Assembly, Republicans suggested an amendment that would have delayed the implementation of the bill until next year, a move that would have left Mr. Benjamin on the ballot. “That seems like a fair, reasonable, and honest compromise,” said Assemblyman Michael Lawler of Rockland County, adding: “Nobody’s against that.”

Democrats voted down the amendment.

Leave a Comment