NEW YORK - Democrats in the New York legislature are bailing Gov. Kathy Hochul out of a tight spot, but it might come with a cost. Lawmakers on Monday voted on a last-minute bill that will allow Hochul to replace former Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin, who resigned last month following his arrest, on the primary ballot.
The bill passed with just a few votes to spare in the state Senate. Deputy Senate Majority Leader Michael Gianaris voted against it.
"I'm very pleased that my partners in government agree that this is an important step to take," Hochul said on Monday, praising Democrats in the Legislature.
Hochul chose Benjamin to be her lieutenant governor in August after she took over for her predecessor, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who resigned amid scandals on sexual harassment, COVID nursing home deaths, and more.
Hochul said she was not aware that at the time Benjamin knew of a federal criminal investigation and had already received a subpoena from the U.S. Justice Department. Benjamin resigned from office after he was arrested on federal corruption charges in March.
But the state's current election law doesn't allow for him to be removed from the ballot this close to the primary. The only way to remove a name from the ballot after they have secured the party's endorsement is if the candidate dies, moves out of the state, or is nominated for another office.
However, thanks to these last-minute changes by a majority of Democrats in the Legislature, Hochul will soon get to pick someone new. Again.
This new bill will allow a candidate who has been indicted, charged, or arrested to remove their name from the ballot.
Sen. Liz Krueger, a sponsor of the bill, called this legislation common sense.
"If there is a candidate who has been indicted on corruption charges, who has resigned from the office they're running for because of that indictment, and who wants to be removed from the ballot, I don't believe our laws should require that candidate to remain on the ballot," Krueger said. "It's just common sense."
Yet, both progressive Democrats and Republicans have cried foul, saying that it is too late to change the rules of the game.
"The only reason I can think of is Kathy Hochul was concerned about her poll numbers, she's concerned about her election and certainly having the potential to have a convicted felon on her ticket won't help her politically," Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay said. "So this is a bailout for Kathy Hochul."
Under this bill, Benjamin has until Wednesday to remove his name from the ballot.
Benjamin did plead not guilty in court and has insisted he is innocent of all charges. But in his first public comments since his resignation, Benjamin agreed to voluntarily withdraw his name now that this bill has passed.
"Given that these charges were brought for some reason so close to the election, I also believe that withdrawing from the ballot is the right thing to do and that is why I will sign the necessary paperwork to withdraw from the ballot," Benjamin said in a pre-recorded video.
Hochul has not given any hints on whom she might pick this second time around, but whoever it is will still have to run in a primary against two candidates already in the race.