LOPEZ DOA: Silver cuts Brooklyn assemblyman’s life support, says it’s time for Lopez to go

May 17, 2013 By Michael Gormley Associated Press
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ALBANY — New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver will introduce legislation on Friday recommending that state lawmakers expel Bushwick Assemblyman Vito Lopez, who is accused of sexual harassment.

Silver will also ask the Assembly to consider the full Joint Commission on Public Ethics report, which was critical of Silver’s handling of the Lopez case, according to a statement released by Silver’s office late Thursday night.

The statement said a vote on the resolution to sanction Lopez would occur on Monday.

Two investigative reports detailed accusations against Lopez, but didn’t call for any criminal actions. The reports criticize actions by the Assembly under Silver for agreeing to a $103,000 secret settlement of claims by two women against Lopez last summer.

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Earlier, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Lopez should be removed from office over the “disgusting” sexual harassment scandal, but the governor wouldn’t say whether Silver, who orchestrated a secret settlement in the case, should be replaced.

“This is a disgusting, sordid incident,” Cuomo said. Thursday’s comments came a day after two reports detailed claims of inappropriate conduct by Lopez over years toward young women staffers, but recommended no criminal charges.

“The man should resign, and he should be expelled by his colleagues if he doesn’t,” Cuomo said. “There should be zero tolerance … no second chance, no making it go away.”

Silver said Thursday that although mistakes were made in handling the sexual harassment claims, he isn’t responding to a call for him to step down as leader over what two groups describe as a cover up.

Silver, the Democratic speaker since 1994, is under more intense pressure since the release of the reports Wednesday, one from Special Prosecutor Daniel Donovan and the other from the state Joint Commission on Public Ethics. The reports uncovered no proof of a crime, but they both describe years of accusations of inappropriate behavior by once-powerful Lopez of Brooklyn. The accusations were made by women staffers in Lopez’s office.

The reports also criticize actions by the Assembly under Silver for agreeing to the $103,000 secret settlement. The Joint Commission report includes claims of more sexual harassment accusations against Lopez even as the settlement for two additional women was being crafted.

“While the report found no legal or ethical violations by the speaker or his staff, the speaker has said since August that the Assembly should not have agreed to a confidential settlement and we should have instead referred the complaint to the Ethics Committee for a full investigation,” Silver spokesman Michael Whyland said Thursday. “It is a mistake that will not be repeated.”

The written statement didn’t address the question of whether Silver would step down or put his leadership to another vote by Assembly Democrats.

“It is obvious from both reports that the Assembly took every measure possible to avoid engaging in a proper investigation in compliance with its own sexual harassment procedures in order to protect Vito Lopez,” said Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause-NY. “In so doing, the Assembly leadership willfully ignored the public interest, as well as the needs of the victims, and permitted Mr. Lopez to continue his misconduct.”

“There was no confusion, merely a cover-up,” Lerner said. “It is outrageous that in the halls of government, lawmakers displayed such obvious disdain for the law.”

Lerner called on the Assembly Democrats to hold an unprecedented vote for speaker “so that their constituents can see where they stand.”

Donovan reported that “the chief concern of those in the Assembly was mitigating the Assembly’s damages” rather than disciplining Lopez or preventing sexual harassment in the future.

“It is clear that the Assembly’s procedures for handling allegations of sexual harassment deserves a more formal review so that the public and staff members of the Assembly can be assured that complaints will be handled effectively in the future,” said Dick Dadey of Citizens Union, a good-government advocate.

This scandal differs from a federal corruption investigation under way that has targeted five rank-and-file senators and assemblymen. The Lopez case touches the highest level of the Assembly.

Donovan’s report also was critical of the lesser roles of top staffers for Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli in the secret settlement, although each report said there was no evidence DiNapoli nor Schneiderman knew of it.

Donovan’s probe was limited to Brooklyn. However, many of the claims that Lopez inappropriately touched women staffers was said to have been done while traveling, or in Albany or Atlantic City.

Albany County District Attorney David Soares said he’s not pursuing any criminal activity and hadn’t received any requests from Donovan.

David Bookstaver, spokesman for the state Office of Court Administration, said a special prosecutor would have had an ethical and professional responsibility to report any evidence of a crime to a prosecutor who had jurisdiction in the area where the alleged crime occurred.

Soares, a Democrat, called the scandal “awful … there were ethical and institutional lapses.”

Associated Press writers Jennifer Peltz in New York City and Michael Virtanen in Albany contributed to this report.

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