Gov. Kathy Hochul announced Tuesday afternoon that Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin resigned from office.
The resignation from the Harlem Democrat came in the wake of federal officials charging him with bribery and fraud stemming from allegations that he misused his state senate office to secure campaign contributions for a failed bid to be New York City Controller. Benjamin has denied any wrongdoing.
“I have accepted Brian Benjamin’s resignation effective immediately. While the legal process plays out, it is clear to both of us that he cannot continue to serve as Lieutenant Governor. New Yorkers deserve absolute confidence in their government, and I will continue working every day to deliver for them,” Hochul said in a statement.
Benjamin’s attorneys, James Gatta and William Harrington, said Tuesday that Benjamin would be focusing his energies on “explaining in court why his actions were laudable—not criminal.”
“He looks forward to when this case is finished so he can rededicate himself to public service,” the attorneys said in a statement.
Under the state constitution, the governor has the ability to pick Benjamin’s successor and doesn’t need legislative approval of the selection. Representatives for Hochul did not immediately respond to inquiries about whether the governor planned on filling the vacant post this year, which is filled on an interim basis by Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins.
The resignation does not automatically remove Benjamin from June’s Democratic primary ballot, when he was planning to run for a full, four-year term as lieutenant governor. He was endorsed by his party in February and is expected to take on former New York City Council member Diana Reyna, who is the de facto running mate of Congressman Tom Suozzi, and activist Ana Maria Archila, the de facto running mate of New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams.
Republican and Democratic lawmakers alike began calling for Benjamin to step aside after news broke of the indictment, but Hochul initially declined to comment on the matter when appearing before the New York City media for an unrelated matter shortly after noon. Last week, at a press conference at the Capitol, the governor said she had the utmost confidence in her number two.
In August, shortly after she was elevated to chief executive, Hochul tapped Benjamin, then a relatively unknown state senator, to serve as her lieutenant governor. Benjamin was one of a handful of downstate lawmakers under consideration for the job, including fellow Democratic lawmakers Jamaal Bailey and Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn.