Vito Lopez in 2005 Michael Nagle for The New York Times
By DANNY HAKIM
Published: August 24, 2012
ALBANY — Assemblyman Vito J. Lopez, the Brooklyn Democratic leader and longtime political power broker there, has been stripped of his committee chairmanship, barred from employing young people, and censured after an Assembly committee determined that he had sexually harassed two female employees this summer.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Manhattan Democrat, said that the Assembly’s ethics committee had unanimously found allegations of both verbal and physical harassment to be credible.
“There were multiple incidents of unwelcome physical conduct toward one complainant, wherein you put your hand on her leg, she removed your hand, and you then put your hand between her upper thighs, putting your hand as far up between her legs as you could go,” Mr. Silver wrote, describing the committee’s findings.
He also said, “There was pervasive unwelcome verbal conduct by you toward both complainants from early June 2012 until the time they made complaints of sexual harassment in mid-July 2012, including repeated comments about their physical appearance, their bodies, their attire, and their private relationships.”
He said that Mr. Lopez “required” one of the women to travel with him to Atlantic City last month, where he attempted to kiss her, and that “she struggled to fend you off before you stopped, and that on the drive back from Atlantic City you again put your hand between her legs.”
Courting Mr. Lopez has long been an important box to check in city politics. In 2008, for instance, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s aides sought help from Mr. Lopez in convincing the City Council to extend term limits and allow the mayor to run for a third term. That same year, Caroline Kennedy lunched with Mr. Lopez as she tried to win support for an appointment to the United States Senate.
Mr. Lopez was first elected in 1984 and represents parts of East Williamsburg and Bushwick. His chairmanship of the housing committee in the Assembly gave him significant sway over matters of real estate and housing policy in New York City. He won his last race, in 2010, by a nine-to-one margin.
Mr. Lopez has been the head of the Brooklyn Democratic Party since 2005 and has been known as one of the more irascible players in city politics. Earlier this year, his political machine took part in an unsuccessful effort to oust Nydia Velazquez, a fellow Democrat and a 10-term congresswoman, in a primary, and Mr. Lopez was openly hostile to her in his public comments.
Long considered Brooklyn’s patronage king, he is the founder of the Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council, a nonprofit organization that has fueled his political machine for decades. City and federal authorities have in the past scrutinized his relationship to nonprofit groups, in particular the Ridgewood Bushwick organization, but he has not been charged in connection with the inquiries.
Mr. Silver said he had imposed multiple sanctions on Mr. Lopez, following the recommendations of the committee.
“Please be advised that you are hereby removed as Chair of the Committee on Housing, that any rights or privileges of seniority you currently retain are deemed forfeited, and that your staff allocation will be reduced in a manner consistent with the Committee’s recommendation,” Mr. Silver wrote. “In addition, you are hereby directed that you are not to have any interns placed or working in your offices, or any employees under the age of 21 in your offices. Supplemental sexual harassment training will be scheduled for you and your staff. Finally, based upon the foregoing and upon the unanimous recommendation of the Committee on Ethics and Guidance, I hereby censure and admonish you on behalf of the New York State Assembly and its Members and declare that your conduct with respect to this matter violates the Assembly’s Sexual Harassment/Retaliation Policy and is inconsistent with the standards of conduct to which Members of the Assembly should be held.”
Mr. Lopez’s office had no immediate comment on Friday.
Posted by Rabbi Nuchem Rosenberg at 8/24/2012
(: Poor Weberman
Rabbi Nuchem Rosenberg