Politics

Independent runs for governor or LG? Not so fast

With upheavals and rumors complicating this year’s election cycle, state law makes it difficult to play electoral musical chairs.

Will former Gov. Andrew Cuomo will run as an independent?

Will former Gov. Andrew Cuomo will run as an independent? Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

As is tradition in New York electoral politics, there is much to-do about third parties this year. But the situation now is a little more complicated than the usual (already confusing) dance between the Working Families Party and Democrats. With the promise of a new party to help Democrats in November and whispers about independent runs for the state’s highest office, it’s important to know all the rules in this game of chess.

Political observers have two pressing questions when it comes to the upcoming races for governor and lieutenant governor: Will former Gov. Andrew Cuomo run as an independent, and what happens now that Brian Benjamin has been indicted and resigned as lieutenant governor? 

To run for governor, you need a running mate

In the case of Cuomo – who has been mostly mum on his future political aspirations – an important factor in his potential comeback that has been missing from the debate is who his running mate would be – because he can’t simply run alone. That requirement comes from case law, specifically the decision of a 2010 lawsuit brought by a Tea Party candidate who tried to independently petition his way onto the ballot to run for governor without a running mate. Although the Board of Elections initially certified the nominating petitions of Steve Cohn, a court challenge soon followed. Both the state Supreme Court and later the Appellate Division found that an independent candidate for governor must also have a lieutenant governor candidate running jointly with them. 

As speculation abounds about what Cuomo might do, little if any attention has been paid to whom he could recruit as a viable running mate, complicating his potential comeback with an additional step. While the disgraced former governor still has some friends in New York politics, it’s unclear whether any of them would step up to be his running mate, let alone provide substantive benefit for him in the general election. Cuomo has not indicated publicly one way or the other whether he will actually seek the office of governor again, but he has until mid-May to find someone to partner with and gather petitions.

Lieutenant governor candidates can’t run independently in the general election

The same is true for a candidate for lieutenant governor, meaning that a person of Gov. Kathy Hochul’s choice cannot file independent nominating petitions to get on the ballot in November to run separately. Lieutenant governor candidates need to be on a joint ticket with a gubernatorial candidate. “But wait!,” you may say. “Couldn’t that person and Hochul run as a ticket on the new party line Democrats are forming?” While the creation of this new party, dubbed the Fair Deal Party, may seem like it provides a solution for Hochul, it would in fact cause more problems. While technically possible for Hochul to run as a Democrat with whoever wins the lieutenant governor primary as well as on the Fair Deal Party line with a running mate of her choice, it would actually serve to split her vote. 

Normally, a candidate’s votes are aggregated, so regardless of which line someone decides to vote on, it all counts to the same total. But if Hochul ran on the Democratic and Fair Deal Party lines with different running mates, that aggregation can’t happen, splitting her own vote among two parties. In other words, she could only win as a Democrat or as a Fair Deal Party member, but not as both. So that option seems unlikely as well. 

Hochul’s conundrum with Benjamin also creates another unexpected twist. State Democratic Party Chair Jay Jacobs has said the Fair Deal Party is simply a way to provide the governor an extra line to ensure her name appears on the November ballot twice, should she win the Democratic primary. But she would likely have to convince either Ana Maria Archila or Diana Reyna, the two major candidates of lieutenant governor, to appear on the line with her. Jacobs told City & State that the Fair Deal Party could have a “placeholder” candidate for lieutenant governor before the June primary, one who can later vacate the spot for whoever wins the Democratic primary. He said that’s the plan, at least for now. But both Arichila and Reyna have been cool to the prospect of an appointment by Hochul to complete Benjamin’s term, so cooperation on the third party plan that has received criticism on the left and right seems uncertain. If no one agrees to appear on the line with her, Hochul could not appear on the Fair Deal Party line alone, resulting in a failure of its original intent.

Reyna’s campaign spokesperson said they won’t comment on hypotheticals. As for Archila: “I will not seek the endorsement of a party that does not represent anyone,” she said in an emailed statement. 

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