New York Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin resigned from office Tuesday evening, ending his short tenure in office just hours after he was arrested on a bribery indictment.
Gov. Kathy Hochul announced Benjamin’s resignation just after 5 p.m., less than 12 hours he surrendered to federal authorities on five felony charges. It took effect immediately, Hochul said.
Benjamin's abrupt exit will set off a scramble to replace him, with Hochul maintaining the ability to appoint someone to fill the remainder of his term through the end of the year. But as of now, Benjamin remains on the June 28 Democratic primary ballot unless Democrats can find a legal loophole to remove him.
“While the legal process plays out, it is clear to both of us that he cannot continue to serve as Lieutenant Governor,” Hochul said in a statement. “New Yorkers deserve absolute confidence in their government, and I will continue working every day to deliver for them."
Earlier Tuesday, Benjamin pleaded not guilty to charges of fraud, bribery and falsification of records in Manhattan federal court. He is accused of directing a $50,000 state grant to Friends of Public School Harlem, a non-profit controlled by a real-estate developer who in turn made tens of thousands of dollars in donations to Benjamin’s political campaigns.
In a joint statement shortly after his resignation, Benjamin's attorneys characterized the grant as an honest effort to "buy supplies for public school students in Harlem."
"After today’s charges, Brian will resign his duties as Lieutenant Governor and suspend his campaign," said the attorneys, James Gatta and William Harrington. "He will focus his energies on explaining in court why his actions were laudable — not criminal."
It was Hochul herself who put Benjamin, a Democrat and former state senator, in his position as lieutenant governor. She appointed him to the role in late August, marking one of her first major decisions after she took office earlier in the month.
At the time, Hochul's selection of Benjamin was seen as a key effort to balance the Democratic ticket as the governor seeks election to a full term this year, joining together a white woman from Buffalo running for governor with a Black man from Harlem as lieutenant governor.
“I want to thank the entire village of Harlem who helped create this young man who’s going to help us lead the state into better days and prosperity,” Hochul said in August, when she announced her selection of Benjamin is his home neighborhood.
In the end, his tenure lasted less than eight months. And it leaves Hochul in the difficult position of finding someone to fill out the remaining seven-plus years of the term, even though that person may not be able to get on the Democratic primary ballot to fill the role in 2023 and beyond.
Asked about Benjamin during an interview on Fox 5, New York City Mayor Eric Adams — a former state senator — said, “I think right now it is up to the governor and lieutenant governor. He made a decision and I think he should look forward to handling the legal matter in front of him.”
Benjamin faced a wave of Republican calls for his resignation in the immediate aftermath of his arrest, which grew to include a number of Democrats as the day went on. Among them was state Senate Finance Chair Liz Krueger, a Manhattan Democrat.
Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt, a western New York Republican, said he was "glad" Benjamin decided to resign. But he said it called Hochul's judgement into question, considering Benjamin's campaign finance practices had been called into question long before she selected him as her lieutenant governor.
"She either ignored a betrayal of public trust or failed to do the most basic vetting available in public media reports," Ortt said in a statement. "Either way, her administration is casting yet another shadow of corruption over our state government."
With Benjamin's resignation, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, a Democrat from Yonkers, will take over the lieutenant governor's duties on an interim basis. Those duties are generally ceremonial and limited to serving as president of the Senate.
But until a new lieutenant governor is appointed, Stewart-Cousins would be next in the line of succession to the governor's office.