NY Lieutenant Governor Brian Benjamin Resigns After Arrest in Federal Probe

Congress is on recess and Senators and Representatives are back in their districts until next Monday, April 25th. When members return, the Congressional agenda is packed and you will want to tune in:
 
  • Congressional negotiators will also begin shoring up differences between the House and Senate on an over $100 billion advanced technology authorization bill, which includes funds and programming for artificial intelligence, semiconductors, and quantum computing, in order to compete with China’s growing foothold in the “AI Cold War.”

 In New York State… 

The breathtaking fall of Lieutenant Governor Benjamin dominated the political news while a horrific subway shooting in Brooklyn reinforced fears about about public safety, questions about mental health services, and the troubles of the MTA . They also showcased the valor and bravery of regular New Yorkers.

Benjamin was indicted on five charges accusing him of conspiring with a Harlem developer, directing $50,000 in state funds to the developer’s nonprofit in exchange for thousands of dollars in illegal campaign contributions. By the end of the day, Benjamin had resigned at the behest of Governor Kathy Hochul, though he vowed to fight the charges. Benjamin’s troubles were seized on by Hochul’s political opponents and hurt all the more as only days earlier, Hochul had been steadfast in her support of Benjamin, even standing with him during her budget briefings. That said, it is important to note that Benjamin admitted to not telling Hochul about the extent of his criminal justice peril and, in fact, one of the counts of his indictment is based on Benjamin lying in his background/vetting documents. Still, anytime a member of your administration is indicted, especially on corruption charges, it hurts though the truth is voters rarely base their vote for governor on the choice for lieutenant governor. The bigger problem for Team Hochul is that this indictment—and the lingering issue of an LG, see below—continues to make it hard for them to change the narrative, especially coming off a budget process where the Governor had numerous successes but they were overshadowed by Booze, the Buffalo Bills, and Bail as well as continued complaints about secrecy and the how the deal was done.
 
Benjamin was selected as the Democratic designee for LG at the New York State Democratic Convention (meaning he received more than 51% of the vote and will appear first on the ballot) and signed an acceptance with the Board of Elections, leaving him as a candidate unless he dies, moves out of state, or is nominated for another office. All of these are unlikely, though not impossible, to happen. To that end, some in the Legislature want to make changes to the Election Law that would allow for Benjamin’s removal from the ballot. “A candidate who is charged with a crime prior to the election should be permitted to voluntarily decline the party’s designation or nomination and withdraw their name from the ballot to allow a new candidate to be selected,” said Assembly Member Amy Paulin (D-Westchester) of a bill she plans to introduce in the coming days. However, spokesman to the Senate Democratic Conference, Mike Murphy, quickly made it clear over the weekend that the Senate would not be taking up such legislation.   Any changes would have to be resolved by Friday, May 6, 53 days before Primary Day (June 28) to allow for the printing and mailing of ballots.

 

The Legislature is on recess through Monday, April 25. At which point, they begin a roughly one-month push through the June 2 scheduled end of the 2022 Legislative Session. We will take a look at the issues to watch in next week’s MMM. In the meantime, we take a look at a few of the winners and losers of this year’s budget process, and how that could shape the next month of legislative activity in Albany.
 
Winners:
 
  • Governor Kathy Hochul—got it done, billions in health care, record investment in education, gas tax suspension. Money for construction. Good things to run on. She also got small but measurable changes in the bail laws to tout on public safety.
Losers:
 
  • Governor Kathy Hochul—The Governor kicked the budget process off with the first State of the State delivered from the Assembly Chamber in more than a decade. Her address highlighted her commitment to more transparent state government and a more collaborative relationship with the Legislature. The final weeks of the budget process turned that notion on its head: sweeping rollbacks to bail and discovery reform were announced through a leak to the New York Post that left advocates fuming, and the Governor’s mammoth Bills stadium deal was met with perhaps even heavier criticism when it was unveiled just 72-hours before the budget deadline. The Governor is left with just one month to patch up fractured relationships with much of the Legislature and position herself for the difficult election season ahead. A good or bad month of May could deeply change her path to a win in November. 

  -Jack O’Donnell

 

 

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OD&A IN THE NEWS

Jack breaks down the downfall of Benjamin with Mel Orlins of News 4 Buffalo here. Historical perspective and the political impact of the resignation of the former Lt. Governor are the topics as Jack talks with the ‘A New Morning’ team at WBEN here.

 


What if New York’s Political Leadership Wasn’t an Embarrassing Mess?

For the 12th time in the past 20 years, New York this week got a new lieutenant governor. Acting lieutenant governor, yes — but: still. Perhaps you were under the impression that the position came with a four-year term in office. Well, you are correct! But since the beginning of 2003, only two lieutenant governors have actually served a full, January-to-January-four-years-later term. [Read more.]

Client News: State Budget Includes Capital Funding for New UB Engineering Building

The newly passed state budget backed up Gov. Kathy Hochul’s pledge to transform the University at Buffalo and Stony Brook University into global innovation and research centers. The budget includes $68 million each for UB and Stony Brook to construct new landmark buildings for their engineering schools, part of Hochul’s plan to make the SUNY system “a world leader in economic development and upward mobility.” [Read more.]