Two of the remaining candidates for the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor on Monday blasted the effort to change New York's election law in order to remove the under-indictment Brian Benjamin from the ballot as an unfair change to the rules midway through the election season, and a sign of sloppiness in state government.
"This is the messiest election that anyone has seen," said former New York City Councilwoman Diana Reyna, who is the preferred running mate of Rep. Tom Suozzi. "I think everyone can agree with that."
The measure, expected to be approved later on Monday by state lawmakers, will make it easier to remove a candidate from the ballot if they are facing criminal charges.
Benjamin was Gov. Kathy Hochul's hand-picked lieutenant governor, but resigned last month amid federal bribery and fraud charges. He has suspended his campaign, but remains on the ballot. New York's current election law provides for a more narrow list of reasons for when a candidate can be removed from the ballot: dying or moving out of New York state.
If the pending bill is approved, Benjamin's removal will be followed by the state Democratic Party's committee on vacancies formally selecting a new candidate.
"I'm very pleased my partners in government agreed this is an important step to take," Hochul told reporters on Monday in New York City. "The expectation is this will be accomplished today and that will create the necessary vacancy for someone to go before the committee on vacancies. They can start doing their work then."
Candidates for governor and lieutenant governor run separately in party primaries and are then joined on a formal ticket after the party primary. Usually a formality, the little-noticed race for lieutenant governor has received far more attention in the weeks since Benjamin's resignation.
In addition to Reyna, progressive activist Ana Maria Archila is running alongside New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams.
Reyna, in a virtual news conference with Suozzi, said the episode gives fodder to Republicans, who hope to recapture the governor's office for the first time in 20 years.
"The question here is are we ready to win against the Republican candidate, the Republican ticket?" Reyna said. "We're giving them ammunition to be able to rip us apart as a party, as New Yorkers and provide more fear in the lives of New Yorkers."
Archila also knocked the bill, the product of a negotiation between Hochul and lawmakers who had been reluctant to take it up.
"New Yorkers deserve free and fair elections, and that means elections where no one can change the rules of the game at the last minute," she said. "I believe the governor should allow the voters to determine who the next lieutenant governor will be. There are two lieutenant governor candidates who are running on the ballot who did not have scandals, who did end up indicted."
Archila added, "She already has the power of incumbency."