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Brian Benjamin Might Not Be on the N.Y. Ballot After All

ALBANY, N.Y. — State lawmakers are expected on Monday to carve out a legal path for the former lieutenant governor, Brian A. Benjamin, who resigned after being indicted on federal bribery charges, to be removed from the primary ballot.

The move is widely regarded as an acquiescence 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.

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 felonies are eligible to run for and hold public office under New York law, though 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.

The new law, which the governor is expected to sign after the Assembly and Senate pass the measure on Monday, 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.

Democrats to Ms. Hochul’s left and Republican foes characterized the move as an abuse of power, saying that Ms. Hochul should not be allowed to change the rules midstream because it suits 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 majority leader, Andrea Stewart-Cousins, saying she “really, really, really” did not like the idea of changing election laws while 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.

What to Know About Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin


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Who is Brian Benjamin? A Democratic state senator from Harlem, he was selected by Gov. Kathy Hochul to be her lieutenant governor in a move widely seen as an attempt by Ms. Hochul to diversify her ticket before this year’s elections. Mr. Benjamin resigned from the position following an indictment in connection with a campaign finance scheme.

The investigation. Federal authorities have been investigating whether Mr. Benjamin participated in an effort to funnel fraudulent contributions to his unsuccessful 2021 campaign for New York City comptroller. This inquiry stemmed from an indictment charging a Harlem real estate investor with trying to conceal contributions to a candidate in that race.

His resignation. On April 12, Mr. Benjamin was arrested and stepped down as ​​lieutenant governor hours after federal prosecutors unsealed an indictment implicating him in a brazen scheme to enrich his political campaigns with illegal donations. The resignation could prove to be a serious political liability for Ms. Hochul.

His defense. Mr. Benjamin has pleaded not guilty to bribery and fraud. His lawyers said that the government had overreached in bringing “flimsy and unwarranted” charges against the lieutenant governor and that he had not received personal benefits that would amount to political corruption.

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 would soon be selected by a committee on vacancies, with Ms. Hochul likely to have some input.

The ultimate pick 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, but it is possible that she will name an interim placeholder.

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