Kathy Hochul pummeled by Dem primary opponents after corruption charges forced her No. 2 to quit

Kathy Hochul pummeled by Dem primary opponents after corruption charges forced her No. 2 to quit

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul is under attack from her primary opponents following the abrupt resignation of Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin when he was hit with federal corruption charges this week.

Rep. Tom Suozzi, a Long Island congressman and one of a handful of Democrats challenging Mrs. Hochul in the party’s primary election in June, took a swipe at her Thursday on Twitter.

“@GovKathyHochul saying she was ‘surprised’ to learn her handpicked LG had issues doesn’t pass then smell test. 1) She knew he was subpoenaed months ago, and lied on his vetting form, yet she put him in charge of negotiations with the legislature,” Mr. Suozzi wrote. The Tweet featured a January 2021 article in The City that questioned Mr. Benjamin’s campaign fundraising practices.

Mr. Benjamin, a Democrat, was indicted for a scheme to obtain campaign contributions from a real estate developer in exchange for using his influence as a state senator to get a $50,000 grant of state funds for a nonprofit organization controlled by the developer.

In another tweet, Mr. Suozzi writes that Mr. Benjamin “campaigned on ‘defund the police,’ yet she put him in charge of bail reform.” He adds in a final tweet, “We all knew he was surrounded by scandals yet she handpicked him and doubled down on him just last week.”

New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams noted that Mrs. Hochul, prior to being elevated to governor claimed ignorance of former Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s “wrongdoing” before he resigned in scandal.

“As Lieutenant Governor, Kathy Hochul denied knowledge or awareness of Andrew Cuomo’s (former New York Governor) wrongdoing,” Mr. Williams said in a statement. “Now, she’s repeating the same posture and strategy with her own lieutenant. Either she’s consistently shamefully out of the loop, or shamefully enabling through her inaction and either way, it’s clear that, unless we elect leadership outside of the old ways of Albany, these patterns of scandal and corruption will keep repeating.”

He added, “We’ve highlighted how the Hochul administration represented Albany’s dysfunctional status quo. She claims to have cleaned up the Capitol. But just this week, with historic hand-outs to Buffalo billionaires, donor-driven scandals, and resignation, it’s never felt more familiar, or clearer that we need drastic change.”

New York-based veteran Democratic campaign consultant Hank Sheinkopf said this turn of events for Mrs. Hochul, who is running for a full term, reflects “badly” on her campaign.

“Crime, shootings is the issue today,” he said in an interview. “Benjamin has added corruption to the crime wave.”

Mrs. Hochul has claimed she thought all issues related to questionable fundraising practices were cleared up since they were first reported in January 2021.

“We had been told that everything that had risen up had been addressed, everything was clean, and that’s what we were told [in] the process,” she said Wednesday on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show. “But I made the best decision I could with the information I had at that time.”

She later told reporters that most of the vetting information was provided by Mr. Benjamin and she was unaware he received subpoenas from prosecutors before taking his post as lieutenant governor.

Mr. Benjamin was arrested and indicted Tuesday on corruption charges. He is accused of steering $50,000 in state funds to a Harlem nonprofit in exchange for campaign contributions.

Following his arrest, Mr. Benjamin’s lawyers said in a statement: “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.”

Due to state election laws and deadlines to change the ballot, 

Mr. Benjamin will still appear on the ticket with Mrs. Hochul in the June primary. State law only allows a candidates’ name to be removed from the ballot in cases of death, relocation out of state, or running for another office.

Each primary candidate in the lieutenant governor’s race runs on their own with the endorsement of their running mate. The winner joins their party’s ticket in the general election, so Mrs. Hochul could poach another running mate of one of her primary competitors.

In a joint virtual press conference this week hosted by Mr. Suozzi and his running mate Diana Reyna, Ms. Reyna was asked if she would leave Mr. Suozzi and join Mrs. Hochul’s ticket. 

Ms. Reyna said she’s already endorsed Mr. Suozzi for governor.

“These are hypotheticals, until Primary Day, we don’t know what will happen, right?” she said. “So, the opportunity to be able to receive the support of the public, voters and elected officials who want to endorse my campaign. I welcome everyone. After the primary, should I continue, I will work with whoever is governor.”

That same day, Ms. Rayna tweeted, “I fully support @Tom_Suozzi to be our next governor. Kathy Hochul lacks the judgment and experience — she’s unfit to lead. The Suozzi/Reyna ticket will tackle crime, rising taxes and affordability.”