Hochul grapples with the aftermath of his lieutenant governor’s resignation over corruption charges
A day after her lieutenant governor was arrested and resigned, Governor Kathy Hochul tries to deal with the fallout.
Brian Benjamin was charged on Tuesday with masterminding a bribery and bribery scheme involving campaign contributions.
On Wednesday, Hochul embarked on an energetic schedule, attending an early morning ceremony at the first in-person auto show at Manhattan’s Javits Center after two years of pandemic-related postponements.
“The auto show is back; this is the clearest sign that New York is back,” Hochul told the audience.
She also attended a rally against hate crimes and spoke with union supporters.
She addressed the scandal during an appearance on WNYC’s “The Brian Lehrer Show”. It had been scheduled before Benjamin was indicted by federal prosecutors for an alleged bribery scheme involving bogus campaign donations to gain access to a public matching fund for candidates. He is also accused of trying to conceal the illegal activities.
Hochul said she was taken aback by Benjamin’s arrest and was disappointed in him.
“It was a surprise, it really was,” Hochul said. “But it was clear to both of us that he could not continue to serve as lieutenant governor.”
Benjamin admitted on April 7 that when Hochul considered appointing him lieutenant governor last August, he failed to tell him he had been subpoenaed by investigators. He also did not inform the State Police, who were conducting background checks, of the investigations being conducted by the US Attorney and the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office.
Hochul said if she had known, she wouldn’t have chosen Benjamin.
But before Hochul selected him, there were already reports of his questionable behavior.
Benjamin, who was then a state senator, had already repaid his campaign fund for misusing it to pay for car loan repayments, gas and a wedding-related party.
And a report from January 2021 in the publication The city hinted at some issues in Benjamin’s unsuccessful campaign for New York City Comptroller. He reported that three men who were listed by the Board of Elections as making small donations to Benjamin said they had not contributed.
Hochul said she thought all of those issues were resolved by the time she selected him for the job.
“We were told that whatever came up had been resolved,” Hochul said. “Everything was clean.”
Hochul said she will take some time to choose a new lieutenant governor and will conduct a much more thorough vetting process.
There are two other candidates on the ballot for lieutenant governor in the June primary. Diana Reyna teams up with Long Island Congressman Tom Suozzi, who is campaigning against Hochul for governor. Ana Maria Archila is associated with New York public attorney Jumaane Williams, who also wants to be governor.
There has been speculation that Hochul might choose either of the women to make her lieutenant governor, or convince them to become her running mate instead.
The candidates for lieutenant governor run separately from the candidates for governor in the primary ballot, but together in the November election, so it’s also possible that one of them ends up on the general election ticket with Hochul even if she doesn’t choose them.
During a press conference on Wednesday, Reyna criticized what she called Hochul’s failure to vet Benjamin.
“That says a lot about the governor’s judgment,” she said.
Reyna, who was asked if she would run with Hochul in the primary, said the question was “hypothetical”. But she said she intended to stick with her endorsement of Suozzi for the governorship.
She has not ruled out accepting an offer to become lieutenant governor and said she would work with the governor if she were to win second place.
Another problem for Hochul is that it’s too late to remove Benjamin from the June ballot unless he dies, runs for another office or leaves the state.
Under the terms of his bond agreement, Benjamin’s travel is limited, but he is allowed to visit Virginia and Georgia, where he has family.
Hochul said she was “examining” ways to remove Benjamin from the ballot and said trying to convince him to move was an “option”.