Analysis: Hochul’s ‘honeymoon’ collapses following resignation of Lieutenant Governor | Buffalo Political News

If there was a honeymoon period for the first woman and first upstater in a century to become governor of New York, it ended in a smash of monumental proportions on Tuesday afternoon.

Governor Kathy Hochul now faces the most serious political crisis of her career as she endures a torrent of criticism from Democrats and Republicans following the arrest and resignation on Tuesday of Lieutenant Governor Brian Benjamin, her pick for the state’s second spot after taking over for former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in August.

New York Lieutenant Governor Brian Benjamin has resigned following his arrest in a federal corruption probe, creating a political crisis for Governor Kathy Hochul seven months after choosing Benjamin as a partner to take a fresh start in an already shaken office. out of scandal. Hochul says Benjamin quit on Tuesday. He was charged in an indictment with participating in a scheme to obtain campaign contributions from a real estate developer in exchange for Benjamin agreeing to use his influence as a state senator to obtain a grant of $50,000 from public funds for a non-profit organization controlled by the promoter. Benjamin pleaded not guilty on Tuesday.

“I have accepted Brian Benjamin’s resignation effective immediately,” Hochul said in a statement. “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.”

Even before Benjamin ended one of the shortest lieutenant governor terms in state history, opponents of Hochul rushed after authorities arrested him for trading political favors for campaign contributions. A chorus of demands for Benjamin’s resignation grew, along with questions about his nomination of the Harlem Liberal in the first place.

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Rep. Lee Zeldin, an endorsed Republican gubernatorial nominee, emerged as one of the first to say Hochul should demand that his nominated successor step down.

“That would be leadership,” he said. “By the way, it should have happened already.”

Buffalo Democrats appearing at a transit event on Tuesday were treading lightly. State Sen. Timothy M. Kennedy and Assembly Majority Leader Crystal D. Peoples-Stokes said they were unaware of all the facts and called it ‘premature’ to offer more comments. But Peoples-Stokes, the second Assemblyman, nevertheless acknowledged the seriousness of Benjamin’s situation just as Hochul turned his attention from a new budget to his own re-election.

“You can’t be investigated and run for office at the same time,” she said of Benjamin, adding that she doesn’t think the governor should be held accountable.

“You can’t blame her because she didn’t do anything wrong,” Peoples-Stokes added.

Yet in a scenario that resembled the summer Democratic defections to Cuomo following a series of scandal accusations, some Democrats in the House were beginning to wither by late afternoon. Two Albany County Assemblymen, Phil Steck and Patricia Fahy, were seeking to end Benjamin’s short stint as the state’s second-in-command.

“Given this criminal charge, I urge Lieutenant Governor Brian Benjamin to step down immediately while these charges are pursued so as not to distract from the urgent work ahead,” Fahy said.

Steck, who predicted last August that Hochul would turn out “very different” from his predecessor, sounded a much different tune on Tuesday.

“The Hochul administration must act quickly to reverse the damage caused by Benjamin’s indictment,” the deputy said. “There is a growing perception that this administration is for sale, that it is blurring the line between principle and campaign contributions.”

A succession of Democratic state senators, including State Sen. Rachel Ray of Onondaga County, also joined the chorus of concern over Benjamin.

“I strongly believe that we need accountability at all levels of government,” she said on Twitter. “These allegations, if true, are inconsistent with the spirit of public service, and I believe LG Benjamin should resign.”

And significantly, State Senator Liz Krueger of Manhattan, chair of the Finance Committee, said shortly before the resignation announcement that Benjamin no longer enjoys the public’s trust and should step down.

But no other senior Democrat or party official weighed in in the hours after the indictment. Even Attorney General Letitia James, in Buffalo on Tuesday to lend her support to Starbucks workers and who helped oust Cuomo from office, had no comment other than, “I was shocked, like everyone else. “

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan said Benjamin was arrested on charges of bribery, Honest Services cable fraud, and tampering with records. The arrest follows the indictment of a real estate developer and contributor to his failed bid for New York City Comptroller – Gerald Midgol – who has been charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud and aggravated identity theft for illegal donations to Benjamin’s campaign.

Democrats challenging Hochul for the party’s nomination in the June primary drew criticism already at the center of their campaigns. Representative Thomas R. Suozzi of Nassau County has suddenly gotten new attention despite his low standing in the polls. Along with his running mate, Diana Reyna, Suozzi reiterated that Hochul showed “lack of experience and poor judgment”.

“Hochul’s first decision was to choose her LG, whom she entrusted with leading her failed bail reform effort, negotiating the budget and last week she said she had the utmost confidence in him, despite numerous investigative reports into his conduct in power,” they said. . “Hochul fostered an ongoing culture of corruption, with months of fundraising from paying insiders and people doing business with the state, and secret budget deals that culminated in the Billion-Dollar Bills Stadium and nothing else.”

Republicans, vastly outnumbered in New York and unable to elect a governor since George E. Pataki in 2002, adopted an “I told you so” attitude that evoked the scandals that engulfed Cuomo a few years ago. barely months.

“She doesn’t have the judgment or the moral code to serve as governor,” GOP Chairman Nicholas A. Langworthy said. “The only way to erase the stench of Cuomo-Hochul is to throw the entire corrupt cabal out of office in November.”

And Zeldin summoned reporters on a video call to highlight his own choice for lieutenant governor, former NYPD Deputy Inspector Alison Esposito, on a day when a gunman opened fire inside a Brooklyn subway station. He consistently lambasted Hochul for criminal justice reforms from which she partially opted out during the budget process.

He said his own candidate for lieutenant governor, a 24-year-old police veteran, offered a “contrast that couldn’t be starker (and a choice between someone) who has spent his life making respect the law or a lieutenant governor who has spent his life trying to run away from it.”

Another Republican gubernatorial candidate, former Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, noted on Twitter: “On the day of a horrific attack that left many injured on a Brooklyn subway, LG” defund the police “from @GovKathyHochul is arrested for a series of crimes.”

For now, Benjamin’s name is likely to remain on the ballot for the June 28 Democratic primary for lieutenant governor. He is one of four candidates to file petitions to enter the race. The others are Diana Reyna, Ana Maria Archila and David Englert, according to the State Board of Elections website.

Benjamin’s resignation does not mean that his name will be deleted. In New York, there are only three ways to opt out of the ballot: death, declination or disqualification, said John Conklin, spokesman for the State Board of Elections.

However, Benjamin’s deadline to decline the nomination passed Feb. 25, Conklin said. But he would become disqualified if he left the state before the primary.

Benjamin could also lose the Democratic primary and be knocked out of the ballot for the general election.

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