State lawmakers are planning changes in the aftermath of Brian Benjamin's resignation that would make it possible to remove politicians from the ballot when they are charged with crimes.
The Democratic lieutenant governor resigned earlier this week after surrendering to authorities in connection with a campaign finance fraud-related investigation.
The ballot issue comes as Gov. Kathy Hochul grapples with limited options to remove her indicted running mate from the June 28 Democratic primary ballot.
Even though Benjamin resigned his position on Tuesday after bribery charges against him were announced, current law does not allow him to leave the ballot unless he dies, runs for another office or moves outside New York state.
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Westchester Assemblywoman Amy Paulin told colleagues Wednesday in a memo that she would be introducing a bill to enable a candidate charged with a crime before an election to voluntarily withdraw the name and allow a new candidate to be selected.
"This wasn’t the first time nor will it be the last that we have a situation like this," Paulin, who is co-sponsoring a bill to change the law, told NBC New York.
Asked if she felt the change could come quickly enough to impact the ballot for the upcoming election, Paulin said it would be good if it did.
"It would be amazing if we could manage to get it done in time because it’s both unfair to the candidate who no longer wants to be a candidate and to the voters," the longtime Democrat said.
The governor has said she wasn't aware of the subpoena involving Benjamin when she named him her lieutenant.
This week she accepted his resignation "effective immediately," saying, "while the legal process plays out, 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 working every day to deliver for them."
Benjamin was accused of abusing his authority to obtain a 50 thousand dollar state grant for an education non profit — and then trading that grant money for campaign contributions.
He pleaded not guilty at a federal court hearing in Manhattan the day of his arrest.
Benjamin's attorneys, James D. Gatta and William Harrington, later issued a statement calling his actions "laudable -- not criminal" and announcing his resignation plans.
"There has never been a federal case like this in America. Brian supported a $50,000 grant to Friends of Public School Harlem. Every dollar was to buy supplies for public school students in Harlem. There was nothing inappropriate about this grant," the lawyers said, adding Benjamin planned to focus his energy on his court defense.
"He looks forward to when this case is finished so he can rededicate himself to public service," his lawyers said.
NEW YORK POLITICAL SCANDALS
Benjamin's arrest is just the latest scandal in New York's political realm.
Former New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who passed away behind bars earlier this year, was at one time one of the three most powerful officials in New York. He was the Assembly’s leader for more than two decades before his abrupt ouster in 2015 after the corruption allegations emerged.
He was ultimately convicted in a scheme that involved a type of illegal back-scratching that has long plagued Albany. He supported legislation that benefited real estate developers he knew. In return, they referred tax business to a law firm that employed Silver, which then paid him fees.
Additionally, former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo also faced a scandal that led him to resign amid sexual harassment allegations.
Below is a list of other high-ranking New York officials who have resigned or faced jail time in the wake of scandal:
- Oct. 17, 1913 - In the history of the state, only one governor has ever been impeached. William Sulzer, the 39th governor of New York, had been in the seat for less than a year before he was impeached after being accused of failing to report thousands of dollars in campaign contributions and commingling campaign funds with personal funds. He was convicted by a special court and removed from office on Oct. 17, 1913.
- Dec. 22, 2006 – NYS Comptroller Alan Hevesi resigns and pleads guilty to a felony charge of defrauding the government; later charges result in a prison sentence.
- March 12, 2008 - Governor Eliot Spitzer announces his resignation, effective March 17, after being caught in a prostitution sting in Washington, DC. (His successor, David Paterson, had several scandals of his own, including accusations of perjury, witness tampering and even rumors of sex and drug escapades that were never proven, and they did not lead to his resignation.)
- July 18, 2008 - NYS Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno resigns his Senate seat, after stepping down as Senate leader on June 24, amid federal corruption charges; later convicted on two felony counts. The US Supreme Court overturned his conviction; a later retrial resulted in acquittal.
- June 20, 2011 - Former U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner -- a once-rising star in the Democratic Party who served nearly 12 years in Congress -- had a dramatic and sordid fall from grace after he sent a lewd picture of himself over Twitter in 2011 and resigned after the behavior came to light.
- Jan. 30, 2015 - NYS Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver resigns as Speaker, effective February 2, following his arrest on federal corruption charges. Later that year, he is convicted on seven counts. Although that conviction was overturned, he was re-convicted in a later trial.
- May 11, 2015 – Dean Skelos steps down from his position as Majority Leader of the NYS Senate, a week after his arrest on federal corruption charges along with his son. Later that year, he was convicted, automatically losing his seat. An appeals court overturned his conviction, but he was found guilty again on retrial. Last year he was released from prison to serve the remainder of his sentence under house arrest after testing positive for COVID.
- May 7, 2018 – NYS Attorney General Eric Schneiderman resigns hours after the New Yorker published an article detailing allegations of physical abuse.