Hochul seeks change in state law to remove indicted running mate from primary ballot
Gov. Kathy Hochul said Tuesday that she wants the state Legislature to approve a new law that would allow her to remove her previously preferred candidate for lieutenant governor from the June primary ballot after he resigned amid federal corruption charges two weeks ago.
Speaking to reporters in Albany, Hochul said she has started conversations with leaders from the state Legislature on moving that process forward.
“Right now there is a need for a legislative solution, and I would like the Legislature to do that, just that, and pass legislation that corrects what is really a strange part of our law that does not allow the removal of someone who is under indictment,” Hochul said.
Former Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin resigned two weeks ago after he was indicted on federal corruption charges related to his campaign for New York City comptroller last year.
Federal prosecutors in Manhattan claimed in the indictment that Benjamin had promised state funds to a nonprofit group in New York City in exchange for a series of campaign contributions. He resigned the day the indictment was unsealed.
That’s turned Hochul’s campaign for governor upside down over the last two weeks.
The deadline for Benjamin’s name to be removed from the ballot has passed, leaving Hochul with few options for replacing him. He could be removed from the ballot if he died, moved out of state, or sought another office, but none of those options appear likely.
That means that, unless the state Legislature makes changes to state law, Hochul will likely have to run in the general election with whoever wins the primary for lieutenant governor in late June.
Two candidates are seeking that nomination, but neither support Hochul. Former New York City Councilmember Diana Reyna and progressive activist Ana Maria Archila are both on the ballot for June.
Rep. Tom Suozzi and New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, both Democrats challenging Hochul for the party’s nomination, picked Reyna and Archila, respectively, as their running mates this year.
Suozzi, in a statement Tuesday, said he didn't think the Legislature should consider changes to the law to help Hochul's situation.
"The members of the Senate and Assembly will already pay a political price for her Buffalo Bills deal, her refusal to address crime, and the LG saga," Suozzi said. "How long are they willing to carry Kathy Hochul's water? She made these messes, she needs to clean them up herself."
It’s unclear if Hochul will be able to win support for a change in law that would allow her to pick a third candidate for the primary, or at least remove Benjamin from the ballot.
Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Westchester, told reporters Tuesday that Hochul had called her Monday evening to talk through options, but that she was reluctant to support a legislative solution for the governor’s dilemma.
“I really, really, really don’t like to change rules in the middle of a process, and certainly in the middle of an election,” Stewart-Cousins said. “We will continue the conversation.”
The primary is scheduled for June 28, but there’s a chance that could change. The Legislature is facing a legal challenge over new district lines drawn for Congress and the State Senate.
If those lines have to be redrawn, lawmakers could consider moving the date of the primary to give candidates more time to regroup and campaign ahead of the election.