Published: August 30, 2012
The stories about Assemblyman Vito Lopez groping and demeaning female staff members are flooding out of the back rooms in Albany. Female former employees told The Times this week that Mr. Lopez had asked them not to wear a bra to work. He routinely commented on their clothes — skirts not short enough — and their physique, preferring that they be “well endowed.”
Every day also brings new questions about which officials knew about this behavior and what, if anything, they did to stop it. What justification did Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver have for agreeing to give $103,000 in taxpayer money to settle a harassment claim? Did the comptroller and the attorney general approve both the payout and the decision to hide it from the public?
Depending on the outcome of an ethics investigation that is now under way, Mr. Silver may have to answer questions about his leadership and the other two officials about their duty to provide checks on legislative behavior. It’s past time for Mr. Lopez to answer questions. He should resign and Mr. Silver should make that clear to him.
After complaints to the Assembly ethics committee earlier this year, Mr. Silver finally censured Mr. Lopez last week, removing his clout and his perks in Albany. After that was announced, The Times reported the secret settlement from the Assembly’s $12 million account for “miscellaneous contractual services” which can cover all manner of expenses. That such a fund exists is a measure of the cronyism and corruption that have coddled all manner of misbehavior, both political and personal, in Albany.
In this case, Mr. Silver’s supporters say the settlement was paid after two workers for Mr. Lopez and their lawyers threatened a $1.4 million lawsuit. The Silver team argues that the settlement was a payout of salaries and benefits for the rest of the year, nothing more.
Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office has issued a statement saying that it merely provided Mr. Silver with the usual advice and model agreements used when complaints against the state are settled. Officials there contend they knew nothing about a confidentiality clause. Mr. Silver’s people say that the attorney general’s office was brought along virtually every step of the way.
Next, how could State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli sign off on $103,000 check without asking what it was for? Mr. DiNapoli’s aides said the check was paid out automatically by computer when it was requested by the Assembly’s computer. Assembly aides said they called the comptroller’s office to make sure they were using the right codes and proper methods for this unusual fee.
The Joint Commission on Public Ethics is now believed to be investigating. Since sexual harassment is illegal, the commission can refer this case for prosecution if necessary. It should also make certain its findings are public.
Posted by Rabbi Nuchem Rosenberg at 8/31/2012
Vito the Bully
Rabbi Nuchem Rosenberg