New York Lieutenant Governor Brian Benjamin resigned Tuesday (April 12), according to federal prosecutors accused him for allegedly running a scheme to fund two of his recent campaigns through illegal donations. Although Benjamin pleaded not guilty, his political career is over.
Benjamin’s arrest and resignation is the biggest political crisis Kathy Hochul has ever faced. Hochul, who replaced the disgraced Andrew Cuomo last year, promised a scandal-free government that would mark a clear break with the Cuomo years, when the power-mad governor’s close aides and allies went to jail. Instead, Hochul’s election as lieutenant governor is only the latest New York politician to face federal indictment.
Unlike Cuomo, Hochul was not directly involved in the scandal that rocked her government. Benjamin allegedly oversaw programs that included donations for his state senate and city examiner applications. A former state senator, Benjamin had filed a failed bid for the Court of Auditors in 2021 before Hochul offered him as her lieutenant governor, in part because she wanted to bolster her support among black voters in New York City before running for a full term herself in the year 2022.
Although Benjamin reportedly lied on his financial disclosure form prior to his nomination for lieutenant governor, Hochul still deserves blame for choosing Benjamin over other qualified candidates. reports had appeared about irregularities in Benjamin’s auditors’ campaign in early 2021. And questions about his ethics have long been raised. He wasn’t well-respected in Albany, and nobody who should ever have been a heartbeat from the governor’s mansion.
Due to New York’s Byzantine and antiquated electoral law, it will be incredibly difficult to remove Benjamin from the election before the June primary. Resigning from office is not enough. That said, it’s still likely Benjamin will be a choice for voters two months from now. (New York Democrats may explore the possibility of changing the law in the state legislature to allow Benjamin to be easily removed from the ballot.)
Meanwhile, in New York, progressives were presented with a tremendous opportunity. The Working Families Party (WFP) and various activist groups are backing Ana María Archila in what should be an uphill battle against a viable, well-funded Benjamin. Archila co-founded Make the Road New York, a prominent immigrant rights group, and served as director of the Center for Popular Democracy. She is closely associated with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and has the potential to raise a significant amount of money and create a strong volunteer army.