Hochul seeks to change ballot law after lieutenant governor’s arrest

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Governor Kathy Hochul is having a tough month. Due to a quirk in New York’s election laws, it appears former Lieutenant Governor Brian Benjamin may still be listed as his running mate for the 2022 gubernatorial election despite his arrest there on federal bribery and conspiracy charges. at two weeks. CBS news reported that Hochul reached out to the state legislature earlier this week in hopes of changing the law that currently prevents Benjamin from being removed from the ballot.

“I would like the Legislature to pass legislation that corrects what is really a strange part of our law which does not allow the removal of an accused person or, in other circumstances, of a person suffering from a disease in maybe terminal. I mean, the law is the law until it’s changed,” Hochul said. New York State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart Cousins ​​confirmed the governor called her Monday night to discuss the law change.

Benjamin resigned as lieutenant governor on April 12, hours after turning himself in to authorities who arrested and charged the Harlem native on multiple counts, including bribery and honest services wire fraud . Benjamin was later released on $250,000 bond after pleading not guilty in federal court. U.S. attorney Damian Williams alleged that “from at least 2019 or about 2021, up to and including at least 2021 or about 2021, Benjamin participated in a scheme to obtain campaign contributions from a Harlem-based real estate developer in exchange for Benjamin using his official authority and influence as a New York State Senator to secure a $50,000 state-funded grant for a nonprofit organization profit controlled by the developer. In the court documents, it is further suggested that Benjamin and others acting on his behalf or under his direction engaged in a series of lies and deceptions to cover up his scheme, including falsifying donor forms for the campaign and misleading municipal regulators.

Governor Hochul immediately accepted Benjamin’s resignation and has since sought to distance himself from his former, and possibly current, running mate. “While the legal process unfolds, 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 to work every day to serve them,” the Governor said.

Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Hochul said Benjamin is unlikely to leave the state. “Right now, the best option is to get the Legislative Assembly and ask for their support for legislation to fix this gap in the current law,” she said.

Hochul has a tight deadline to officially sever ties with Benjamin as early voting begins June 18. New York law currently states that a candidate for office cannot be removed from the ballot after accepting a nomination, unless in a few narrow circumstances such as leaving the state. or die. Curiously, the conspiracy trial is currently not considered grounds for removing a candidate from the ticket. If the law is not changed, Hochul will remain unable to nominate a new running mate and will run in the general election alongside the winner of the June 28 Democratic primary election for lieutenant governor. Activist Ana Maria Archila and former New York City Councilwoman Diana Reyna are up for the nomination.

State Deputy Amy Paulin, a Democrat from Westchester County, indicated she would introduce a bill that would allow the removal of candidates with criminal charges or terminal illness. The measure could get a floor vote in his chamber. “Hopefully we will,” Paulin said on Tuesday. “I don’t know for sure, but I hope we will. We certainly talk about it.

Democratic lawmakers who control the Senate and State Assembly have been reluctant to support changing election law ahead of the primary vote.

“I really, really, really don’t like changing the rules in the middle of a process,” Stewart-Cousins ​​said. “It’s definitely in the middle of an election. She spoke to me last night and we’ll continue the conversation. .”

State Republicans share those reservations and have signaled their intent to block any legislation that would change the current law. New York State GOP Chairman Nick Langworthy said in a statement, “If Kathy Hochul’s co-conspirators in the legislature help her avoid being held accountable for picking a crook in As Lieutenant Governor, they will be directly responsible for aiding and abetting Albany’s cesspool of corruption, and we will make sure every voter knows it.

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