Gov. Kathy Hochul’s team suggests she consider a handful of non-white lawmakers representing New York City — including one she previously considered her deputy — to ex-Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin, The Post, found out.
State Senator Jamaal Bailey (D-Bronx), the leader of the Bronx Democratic Party, State Senator Leroy Comrie (D-Queens) and Rep. Catalina Cruz (D-Queens) are among the names being ordained for Hochul’s job, after Benjamin resigned on Tuesday after his federal charges over an alleged campaign finance scheme, three sources told The Post Wednesday.
Before Hochul was sworn in as governor in late August, The Post reported that she was eyeing both Bailey, 39, and Benjamin, 45, to replace them as lieutenant governor. Comrie, a former City Councilman and Vice President of the Borough of Queens who is black, was not previously considered for the position.
Cruz — a progressive Latina who “really wanted” the job in August before Hochul opted to pick Benjamin as LG — was already under scrutiny in recent weeks with a possible replacement for Benjamin, another Democratic source said.
Karines Reyes (D-Bronx), a 37-year-old Latina and former nurse, is another potential LG contender, according to the source.
Former Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., who Hochul’s team also considered for the post in August, wasn’t interested in taking the job at the time and probably still prefers to “ride into the sunset.” , a Democrat source close to him told The Post on Wednesday.
“I heard that Ruben took care of himself, he wasn’t interested. He spoke to the governor a few times [in August]’ the source said of Diaz, a former MP. “He was ready for the private sector. He didn’t run for mayor, and then this came up.”
“He took it seriously. But his feelings that he wanted to ride into the sunset didn’t change,” they added. “He has no interest in being lieutenant governor and if he wasn’t then he isn’t now. He no longer wants to be in public life.”
Though Benjamin resigned on Tuesday, the scandal-ridden former lawmaker is currently still on the ballot for the Democratic gubernatorial primary in June, and tearing him down could prove a difficult task after he appeared alongside Hochul at the New York Democrats’ convention in the was nominated in February.
“The only way to get out of the election is death, disqualification or moving out of the state,” said John Conklin, spokesman for the state board of elections, Tuesday.
During a radio appearance on Wednesday morning, Hochul said she was “looking into” replacing Benjamin as her running mate following his arrest, although she admitted it was unclear if she would stay with her former deputy or if his name was taken from the Democratic primary deleted from June 28 so as not to be spoiled by associations.
“We don’t know that at the moment. We know this is something we are investigating,” Hochul said on WNYC.
“The laws are very complicated,” she added. “But we’re checking that right now.”
When host Brian Lehrer suggested that Benjamin disqualify himself by temporarily moving to New Jersey, Hochul replied, “Call him Brian and you can tell him that’s your opinion. I have no control over it.”
“But yeah, that’s the option I guess… because death is the other,” she added. “And I think it’s running for another office.”
A source for the state’s Democratic Party told The Post on Wednesday that party officials are weighing whether Benjamin could relocate to the Northern Georgia Federal District or Eastern Virginia, where he was granted travel permits after posting $250,000 bail had been released from custody.
“He clearly has a connection to those other states,” the Democratic insider said.
The possibility of Benjamin running for another office is probably impossible, the source said, adding, “The options are all bad until we find out.”
A senior Democratic elections official told the Post that one way for Hochul to remove Benjamin from their ticket is to ask the Democratic-majority parliament to pass legislation allowing the party to reconvene, removing him from the ticket remove and then choose a replacement.
Doug Kellner, Democratic co-chair of the state board of elections, said that option is preferable to trying to get him to move out of state temporarily or put his name on the ballot for a Down electoral office.
“Hochul can make someone lieutenant governor, but [the selection] can’t vote unless they change the law,” he said.
“I think the public would support that. No one wants a candidate on the ballot who isn’t a candidate,” Kellner added. “It’s kind of an insult to voters to leave a candidate on the ballot in this situation.”
Meanwhile, Hochul has dismissed speculation that she “might be trying” to poach former Brooklyn City Councilwoman and Deputy District President Diana Reyna, the running mate of rival candidate and outgoing U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Long Island), as her next lieutenant governor.
“I haven’t even heard that rumor,” she said. “That’s – well, no. I am – this is very early in the process. Obviously there’s a lot of people to consider and… absolutely no decisions were made.”
During a Zoom press conference on Wednesday, Reyna dodged the question when asked if she would accept a potential offer to replace Benjamin.
“These are hypotheses up to elementary school day, we don’t know what’s going to happen do we?” she said. “I just want you to know that I’ve never received a call like this before. So I’m not sure where the rumors are coming from.”
Also on Wednesday, Hochul insisted the unsealing of a five-count federal indictment against Benjamin “was a surprise, it really was,” despite reports last month revealing he was under investigation – and his admission to The Post in March, he was questioned by federal authorities earlier this year.
“But we both knew he couldn’t continue to serve as lieutenant governor,” she said.
Hochul announced Benjamin’s resignation late Tuesday afternoon after sources said she was calling for his resignation.
Asked why she voted Benjamin her No. 2 last year, even though nonprofit news outlet The City had documented his questionable fundraising practices during his unsuccessful city control campaign, Hochul said: “I made the best decision I could with the information I was able to meet back then.”
“He filled out the background check forms and [was] asked if there had been an investigation, you know. We’ve been told that anything that has risen has been addressed,” she said.
“You know, everything was clean and we’re told so.”
Hochul further acknowledged that the vetting process carried out prior to Benjamin’s selection needs an upgrade.
“We clearly need a different process, a stronger, streamlined process that can take us to more detail than we did then,” the governor said. “So I [was] didn’t know that there had been investigations by federal authorities or even the public prosecutor’s office at the time. If we had known that, the result would of course have been different.”
According to his indictment, Benjamin, then a state senator representing parts of Harlem, lied about vetting forms he submitted to Hochul’s office when she was debating who to call her as lieutenant governor after former Gov. Andrew Cuomo resigned last year over a sexual harassment scandal should appoint.
Hochul, a moderate Democrat from Buffalo, said at the time she wanted someone from New York City “who understands the challenges firsthand” as part of her plan to “have a very diverse administration.”
Benjamin’s defense attorneys Tuesday denied that Benjamin attempted to arrange a $50,000 charitable government grant in exchange for more than $50,000 in illegal campaign contributions.
https://nypost.com/2022/04/13/heres-who-hochul-might-choose-to-replace-brian-benjamin-as-her-no-2/ Here’s who Hochul could pick to replace Brian Benjamin as their No. 2