Lieutenant Governor’s Resignation Creates New Drama in the Democratic Primary

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WPCNR CAMPAIGN 2022. News and Comment by Professor Stephen J. Rolandi. April 14, 2022:

Lt. Governor Brian Benjamin’s decision earlier this week to resign following his indictment on Federal bribery charges, has added more uncertainty to this year’s New York elections (in the last two weeks, the  new Congressional and state legislative district lines have been challenged in court; we await the outcome of litigation to see if the new lines remain in place, or are changed).

Professor Stephen J. Rinaldi in a recent interview with John Bailey

Mr. Benjamin is presumed innocent until proven guilty.

In the meantime, his name remains on the ballot as the official Lt. Governor nominee of the Democratic Party State Committee. He is being challenged in the June 28 primary by activist Ana Maria Archilla, who is running with NYC Public Advocate Jumaane Williams; as well as former Brooklyn Deputy Borough President and non-profit executive Diana Reyna, running with gubernatorial candidate Rep. Tom Suozzi.

In New York, Lt. Governor candidates run separately from  candidates for Governor in a party primary. For the general election, however, the successful primary nominees are paired together as a ticket, similar to President and Vice President nationally.

Generally, New York election law does not permit a resigned official such as Mr. Benjamin to leave the ballot unless he changes his residency, dies, or is nominated for another elected position – none of these options appear viable (it is possible that the State Legislature might pass a law to remove his name from the ballot, but this appears unlikely as well). So, Mr. Benjamin’s name will likely remain on the June primary ballot.

Potential successors  might include:  State Senate Majority Leader (and current acting  Lt. Governor)  Andrea Stewart-Cousins; former NYC Mayoral candidates  Kathryn Garcia and  Ray McGuire; and possibly Ms. Reyna, who is considered a more moderate/centrist Democrat.

Governor Hochul now has to make two decisions – (1) who to select to fill out the balance of former Lt. Governor Benjamin’s term, which ends on December 31, 2022, and (2) whether or not to endorse one of the remaining Lt. Governor candidates in the Democratic Primary; or stay neutral.

My guess is that Governor Hochul will appoint a new Lt. Governor who will agree not to stand for election, and let the voters determine who will sit in the Lt. Governor’s chair next January 1, 2023. This may be the least objectionable option for her to pursue.

The State Legislature needs to change the election law to permit a new candidate to be chosen in situations like this one. Hopefully, they will.

Time will tell. This election season will not be boring, to say the least.

(Professor Rolandi served in the administrations of Governors David Paterson and Andrew Cuomo from 2008-13 as Deputy Commissioner, New York State Division of Human Rights. A political scientist, he is an Adjunct Professor of Public Administration at Pace University and John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York. His views are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of his current/former employers).

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