New York governor faces fallout from running mate resignation | New Policies
By MARINA VILLENEUVE and MICHELLE L. PRICE, Associated Press
ALBANY, NY (AP) — When New York Governor Kathy Hochul took office last year after her predecessor resigned amid a sexual harassment scandal, one of her first big decisions was to appoint a lieutenant governor who could help restore confidence in government.
His pick – and his attempt at a reset – imploded last month when his pick, Brian Benjamin, resigned after his arrest on corruption charges.
Now the Democrat hopes to try again, vetting candidates for a new partner as legislative allies move to change state law in a way that would knock Benjamin off the ballot in the primary election and allow Hochul to make campaign with a new, yet-to-be-appointed running mate.
Choosing Hochul for a job that normally goes into the background is now a high-stakes decision that could make it harder to get rid of two main challengers and weigh her in November’s general election.
“If she gets the wrong person, that’s a problem for Republicans,” said Democratic political consultant Hank Sheinkopf. “The issue of this choice is being used against her to challenge her ability to govern and make decisions.”
Hochul said Benjamin’s arrest on April 12 surprised her. She dismissed questions on Monday about how carefully she examined Benjamin, a former state senator, pointing to the tight deadline she had to find a second-in-command after the then-governor. Andrew Cuomo stepped down in August and she took his place.
“We had to find someone. It was not a desirable situation. Can we start all over again differently? Yes, and we will do it very differently,” she said.
His decision on a new partner is expected in the coming days. But to make her new choice on the campaign trail, she first needs lawmakers to allow her to remove Benjamin from the June primary ticket.
Current election law states that a candidate can only withdraw from the ballot if they die, move out of state, or run for another office.
The Senate and state Assembly on Monday began considering a bill that would allow candidates to decline their place on the ballot if they have since been charged or convicted of crimes.
Hochul told reporters on Monday that the bill was intended to end dysfunction in Albany. She denied that it is solely focused on her gubernatorial bid.
“When you think about it, every time I talk to a voter, they can’t believe that was even the law,” she said. “So why not fix it now since it’s been revealed? They know that a governor deserves to have a running mate of her choice.
Mike Murphy, spokesman for the state Senate Democrats, said lawmakers are expected to begin voting on the bill Monday afternoon.
Once this bill is passed, Benjamin can decline his party’s nomination and withdraw from the June primary, which he said Monday he intends to do.
“I am innocent of these baseless accusations. However, I would not be able to serve under these circumstances,” Benjamin said in a statement posted to Twitter.
The Democratic Party and its vacancies committee would be able to fill Benjamin’s spot with a nominee chosen by party leaders, according to a summary of the bill that outlines the state’s existing election law.
“It is expected to be accomplished today and it will create the necessary vacancy so that there is someone who comes before the vacancy committee, then they can start doing their job,” Hochul said.
Republicans, as well as some Democrats, called the bill an unfair change to election rules at the last minute.
“Instead of working to reduce crime and taxes, Kathy Hochul is more focused on safeguarding her political future by desperately trying to change state law to cover up that she put a known and corrupt LG on his ticket,” Suozzi said.
Hochul’s office did not immediately respond to questions Monday about when she will announce her new running mate.
Veteran campaign attorney Jerry Goldfeder said the Democratic Party has wide discretion when it comes to picking a new candidate.
“If it passes, they can do it, as long as the person meets the qualifications for lieutenant governor,” he said.
Hochul, who is white and originally from Buffalo in western New York, was pressured to select a person of color who has New York ties.
It was a consideration she made when choosing Benjamin, a former state legislator who hailed from Harlem and was the second black man to hold the position.
Hochul could also potentially select one of two candidates for lieutenant governor already on the ballot: immigration attorney Ana Maria Archila and former New York City Council member Diana Reyna. Both are running in hopes of serving alongside progressive Jumaane Williams and centrist Tom Suozzi, respectively.
Luis Miranda, a New York political consultant and chairman of the board of the progressive political group Latino Victory, is among those who have publicly called on Hochul to appoint New York’s first Hispanic lieutenant governor, a symbolic choice in a state that values diversity.
Latinos make up about one-fifth of the population but have yet to be elected to New York State office or New York City office.
“It will make a difference and it will be noticeable and great for the Latin American community, and quite frankly, good politics,” Miranda said.
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