Brian Benjamin resigned yesterday as lieutenant governor, marking the end of his term at seven months and three days, the third shortest tenure in state history. His arrest Tuesday morning by the FBI on federal felony charges for bribery, honest services wire fraud, conspiracy and falsification of records was not a surprise, since the Daily News two-and-a-half weeks ago exposed that he was in the sights of the Manhattan U.S. attorney. His ignominious end is a stain on his career and on the judgment of the woman who picked him for the job she once held, Kathy Hochul.
As U.S. Attorney Damian Williams explained in unveiling the grand jury indictment, “this is a simple story of corruption.” As a state senator in 2019, Benjamin sent a $50,000 member item to his pal Jerry Migdol’s charity in order to then have Migdol illegally contribute money to Benjamin’s Senate campaign and also his failed 2021 city comptroller bid, cheating the public matching funds program.
Then, Benjamin brazenly put in his name for Gov. Hochul to select him as the new LG when she ascended to the governor’s office in August. He lied again and again to Hochul that he was not under investigation and she believed him. As for who will now replace him on Hochul’s ticket, that’s a fresh political problem of her own making.
Many others should also answer for this mess. Who if anyone is checking on rotten Senate member items, at very least requiring both giver and getter to attest to no conflicts of interest? Did Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins approve of it? Did Comptroller Tom DiNapoli authorize it? (We’re told no, because his office was stripped of that role by the Legislature.) Did Attorney General Tish James certify that everything was on the up-and-up?
And when Benjamin’s troubles were printed in this newspaper, did James or anyone else investigate further? And why did Hochul stand by him just six days ago? And why did Stewart-Cousins let him preside over the Senate just four days ago?