Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul signed legislation modifying who can appear on New York's ballots, ridding herself of a political headache in the aftermath of her former lieutenant governor's resignation amid scandal.
Hochul signed SB S8949, which "provides for the declination of a designation as a candidate or nomination for a party position under special circumstances," into law Monday evening, just weeks after her hand-picked running mate, former Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin, resigned following his arrest.
"Democracy demands that voters should be entitled to vote for candidates who can properly assume office, and have not been arrested, indicted or convicted of criminal charges. ... This bill will fix this problem by permitting candidates to decline a nomination when the person has been arrested, charged or convicted of one or more a misdemeanors or felonies in either state or federal court and provide a pathway for placing a new candidate on the ballot for voters to consider on Election Day," the legislation says.
KATHY HOCHUL FAULTS 'COMPACTED TIME FRAME' FOR POOR VETTING OF LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR
The governor's decision to sign the bill, which narrowly passed the state Senate earlier Monday, was slammed by Republicans who represent the state in Congress.
"Make no mistake, Kathy Hochul miserably failed her first test as Governor when she selected a criminal Lieutenant Governor. ... Now corrupt Kathy Hochul is using her henchmen in the state legislature to change the law in the middle of an election in order to hide her complete failure and benefit herself on the ballot," Rep. Elise Stefanik said.
Hochul has alluded to the legal quirks that prevented her from selecting a new running mate unless Benjamin moved out of state, sought a different office, or died, saying in a one-on-one last week she was "getting this settled right now" when asked about her limited avenues for choosing a different name to appear alongside hers on the ballot.
"I'm going to take the time I need to make the right decision. ... One thing from our last experience I know is that I won't be pressured into a decision any sooner than we're ready," she said in the segment that aired on local New York stations April 25.
The governor insisted that "information that has now surfaced" about Benjamin, who was arrested April 12 on charges of federal bribery conspiracy pertaining to his unsuccessful city comptroller bid, would have led to a "different decision" had her team known of his alleged misconduct.
"I was still lieutenant governor, so all the vetting ... was not under my jurisdiction. It occurred under the then-existing administration," she said. "So we didn't have a large team, and so I don't make excuses. I take full responsibility."
Benjamin stepped down from the lieutenant governorship just hours after his arrest. Representatives for Benjamin, who served as lieutenant governor for roughly eight months, vehemently denied the allegations.
"This case is an unprecedented attempt to criminally charge an upstanding state leader for routine fundraising and support of a nonprofit providing needed resources to Harlem public schools," attorneys Barry Berke and Dani James of Kramer Levin said in a statement at the time.
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Hochul, who ascended to the governorship last year when Andrew Cuomo stepped down amid allegations of sexual harassment, has positioned herself as a cleansing force to sweep out corruption in Albany, earning the backing of the Democratic Party at its state convention earlier this year. But Cuomo, who denied all claims of wrongdoing, has signaled he could challenge Hochul, whose poll numbers have been sinking in recent weeks, with an independent bid in November, arguing his successor has failed to deliver policy wins for New Yorkers.
The Democratic primary was slated to take place June 28, but after New York's congressional maps were struck down in the state's highest courts as unconstitutionally gerrymandered, most primary races were pushed back to late August.