BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Scandal once again plagues Albany and the Executive Chamber, but political analysts say former Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin could still win both the primary and general elections. He resigned Tuesday evening after being charged and arraigned in an alleged federal bribery conspiracy earlier in the day.
In a statement Tuesday night, Benjamin’s legal team said they plan to fight the charges so that he can return to public office:
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.
After today’s charges, Brian will resign his duties as Lieutenant Governor and suspend his campaign. he will focus his energies on explaining in court why his actions were laudable—not criminal.
He looks forward to when this case is finished so he can rededicate himself to public service.”James D. Gatta and William J. Harrington, Counsels for Brian Benjamin
Gov. Kathy Hochul announced Benjamin’s resignation late Tuesday afternoon, saying it is clear he cannot continue to serve. “I have accepted Brian Benjamin’s resignation effective immediately,” she said in a statement. “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.”
NEWS10 obtained the indictment against Benjamin, which says that he used his abilities as a state senator to give $50,000 in state funds to a real estate developer in exchange for tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions. According to the indictment, this allegedly occurred between 2019 and 2021.
Hochul tapped Benjamin as her second-in-command weeks after taking office, and many regard this appointment as her first major decision as governor. She took the office after former Gov. Andrew Cuomo resigned due to several counts of sexual misconduct.
Gov. Hochul and Benjamin were slated to run for re-election this year, and Benjamin will appear on the June primary ballot, battling against three other candidates: New York University Professor Ana Maria Archila, former New York City Councilwoman Diana Reyna, and Sodus Mayor David Englert.
“It also opens up the lanes for some of the primary challengers that are going to be pushing on the ethics issue really hard now,” Professor Grant Reeher, political science expert from the Maxwell School at Syracuse University, told News 4. “This is just smacks of old Albany and Albany at its worst.”
Aside from the primary election, this new scandal could impact the general election and boost Republican candidates. “Republicans have something to run on now which may give them the ability to raise more money and therefore be more competitive,” political analyst Carl Calabrese said.
New York Primary Day is just 11 weeks away. Benjamin can only be removed from the ticket if he dies or moves out of state. If he wins in June, he will appear on the November ballot. The more permanent stain could fall on Hochul’s campaign, even though some say she is still the front-runner.
“If he wins, if he hasn’t been convicted of a crime, even if the trial is ongoing, if he is acquitted, or if he pleads this down to a minor charge, he could become the next Lieutenant Governor even though he has resigned. It’s kind of a crazy system,” political analyst Jack O’Donnell said. “This could end up being a blip in the road, but it is one of those things that change minds or get people to look at things and start asking questions. Then it becomes, ‘What’s next?'”
Hochul and Benjamin will appear separately on the primary ballot, so Democrats will have the opportunity to decide both of their fates for November.