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Disgraced former Lt. Governor could soon be off the ballot

 The New York state Capitol building.
Wangkun Jia
The New York state Capitol building.

The New York state Legislature is poised to vote as early as Monday on a bill that would remove disgraced former Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin from the primary election ballot.

The bill, introduced in the state Senate on Friday evening, would allow a candidate to remove their name from the ballot if they have been arrested and charged with state or federal misdemeanors or felonies, or have been convicted of a crime.

The measure would allow Benjamin, who was indicted on multiple federal corruption charges, and who resigned from office and is no longer actively running for lieutenant governor, to get off the primary ticket.

Gov. Kathy Hochul has spent the two-and-a-half weeks since Benjamin resigned asking the legislature to help her remove him from the ballot.

“We want to do what’s best for the voters,” Hochul said on April 28. “They deserve to have choices.”

Hochul backed a bill introduced by Democratic Assemblywoman Amy Paulin that would also allow a candidate to leave the ballot if they are diagnosed with a terminal illness. The Senate, which, is led by Democrats, did not add that provision as a valid reason for a candidate to get off the ballot.

The measure also does not provide a legal avenue to place a new name on the ballot, meaning that Hochul will be left without a running mate if the primary occurs in June as scheduled.

Democratic candidates for governor, Long Island Congressman Tom Suozzi and New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, are campaigning with running mates Diana Reyna and Ana Maria Archila. But voters in primaries in New York elect governor and lieutenant governor candidates separately, so it’s possible that Hochul could end up running in the November election with a candidate who is aligned with a political opponent.

The proposed changes come nearly a week after the state’s highest court struck down the newly drawn district lines for congressional and state senate races, saying they were unconstitutionally gerrymandered by Democrats in the legislature. Those primary elections are delayed until August 23.

It’s possible that the June primary for statewide offices and assembly races could be delayed as well, though the New York State Board of Elections has said those contests could go ahead in June as scheduled.

A new wrinkle in the already complicated process emerged Friday, when the New York Daily News reported that a lawsuit challenging the state Assembly’s new district lines as unconstitutional could be filed as early as Monday.

Hochul said the decision on whether there will be one or two primaries is still up in the air.

“I can’t think of a more fluid situation,” Hochul said on April 29. “We cannot be giving clarity on what the future is going to bring.”

If the June primary does go ahead, state lawmakers would have until Wednesday to approve the measure to allow Benjamin to withdraw his name as a candidate. That’s when the Board of Elections has to certify the statewide primary ballot, so that absentee ballots to U.S military and overseas voters can be mailed in time.

Hochul said she hopes a final decision on the primary dates can come later Monday or on Tuesday.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.