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Hochul launches campaign ads as questions remain about disgraced former lieutenant governor

Gov. Kathy Hochul appears with former President Bill Clinton to promote green buildings at the Empire State Building on April 21, 2022.
Don Pollard
Office of Gov. Kathy Hochul
New York Governor Kathy Hochul appears with former President Bill Clinton to promote green buildings at the Empire State Building on April 21, 2022.

Governor Kathy Hochul and her opponents have just over two months left to campaign for governor before the June primary.

Hochul has been holding numerous events while trying to keep off the subject of her disgraced former lieutenant governor, Brian Benjamin, who resigned after he was indicted on multiple corruption charges.

Hochul has begun airing her first TV ad, introducing her to New Yorkers as a dedicated public servant.

“It’s late at night and a light is on in the governor’s office,” a narrator intones as a photo shows Hochul writing under the glow of a desk lamp. “Kathy Hochul is hard at work, and it shows.”

The governor has plenty of money to spend on her campaign.

Hochul, who took her post last August after Andrew Cuomo resigned over multiple scandals, raised a record $21 million in a few short months, primarily by employing lobbyists with interests before state government to hold fundraisers.

Her opponents in the Democratic primary, as well as Republicans who may run against her in the general election, have criticized her fundraising methods, saying they may cross the line into pay-to-play, something Hochul denies.

Her political rivals have been even more vocal about Benjamin's resignation.

Long Island Rep. Tom Suozzi, who is a Democratic candidate for governor, said Hochul should have looked more closely into Benjamin’s background before choosing him.

He also said she does not have the ethical standing to appoint a new lieutenant governor.

“Kathy Hochul has disqualified herself from appointing a new lieutenant governor,” Suozzi said. “Let New Yorkers decide; they’ll do a better decision that she could.”

“She picked a lieutenant governor who she knew, and who everybody knew, had ethical problems,” he added.

Suozzi’s running mate for lieutenant governor, Diana Reyna, is on the ballot, along with Ana Maria Archila, who is running with gubernatorial candidate and New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams.

Benjamin admitted that he lied to Hochul and the State Police, who conducted a background check, before he was picked as lieutenant governor last summer, and concealed the fact that he had received a subpoena in connection with the corruption case. Benjamin has denied any wrongdoing.

Meanwhile, Hochul is keeping her focus on other topics as she steps up public appearances, including a briefing in Syracuse on the new COVID-19 subvariants. She also lit up the Empire State Building with green lights and appeared with former President Bill Clinton to announce a clean energy building initiative.

If Hochul chooses to appoint a new lieutenant governor, she may still be stuck with Benjamin as a running mate in the June primary.

Under the rules, Benjamin would have to die, move out of state, or run for another office in order to be removed.

A bill has been introduced by Assemblywoman Amy Paulin and backed by some good government groups to allow a candidate’s name to be struck from the ballot for other reasons, including criminal charges or diagnosis with a life-threatening illness. But the measure has not gained much traction with lawmakers.

Hochul said she is looking at a number of options, but said she is not pressuring the Legislature to pass the bill.

“That’s their prerogative,” Hochul said. “I’m not going to tell them what to do. But they certainly know their options.”

But she said voters should not have to suffer because of the state’s “antiquated” laws on how to remove a candidates’ name from the ballot.

Hochul, who previously joked about asking Benjamin to move to another state, has now ruled out urging him to leave, saying that decision is up to him and his attorneys.

Karen has covered state government and politics for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 New York and Connecticut stations, since 1990. She is also a regular contributor to the statewide public television program about New York State government, New York Now. She appears on the reporter’s roundtable segment, and interviews newsmakers.