|Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver tells the News that he called for Vito Lopez’s resignation|
EXCLUSIVE: Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver says he asked Vito Lopez to resign over sexual harassment scandal
Silver speaks about the scandal surrounding powerful Brooklyn Democratic Party chairman Lopez for the first time since admitting secret deal to settle the sexual harassment claims was a mistake
PUBLISHED: MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 3, 2012, 5:24 PM
UPDATED: TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 4, 2012, 1:59 AM
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver revealed Monday that he has asked Vito Lopez to resign from the Legislature because of sexual harassment allegations — but his effort at persuasion was a gutter-ball.
As first reported on nydailynews.com Monday, Silver said he called Lopez Friday to request he step down over the scandal that has tainted both of their legacies.
“He basically was inaudible,” Silver told the Daily News of the powerful Brooklyn Democratic Party chairman’s response. “I got the impression he didn’t appreciate my advice.”
Silver, in an interview from the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., made his first comments about Lopez since acknowledging he made an error by authorizing a secret deal to settle two sexual harassment claims against the Assemblyman.
Silver, a Manhattan Democrat, waited more than a week after the scandal broke before he phoned Lopez, explaining that he initially believed the embattled lawmaker would resign on his own.
The state’s second most powerful politician later told reporters Monday that after being rebuffed by Lopez he is trying to determine if something can be done to force Lopez out of the Assembly. “I think it was clear all along, since the conclusions were reached, that he should resign,” Silver said.
Despite having been forced to address the Lopez scandal for much of the day, Silver managed to have a little fun bowling at an event for the New York delegation Monday night. He was even joking about rolling a strike. “What can I say?” he said, according to a tweet by an Albany Times-Union reporter. “If I’d had bowling shoes, I would have bowled two strikes.”
Fun and games aside, Silver’s political judgement, and his tremendous power, is being questioned because it was with his blessing that Rita Pasarell, 30, and Leah Hebert, 29, both former high-ranking members of Lopez’s Assembly staff, were given $103,080 in taxpayer money in June to avoid further litigation. Lopez, 71, pitched in another $32,000 of his own money to keep quiet accusations against him.
“We made a mistake. I acknowledge a mistake was made,” Silver told The News, referring to the once-secret settlement.
He insisted no other hush-hush settlements have been made during his 18-year tenure as speaker. He also vowed to see that no more confidential settlements are entered into, and promised to refer all future sexual harassment claims against lawmakers to the Assembly Ethics Committee.
Yet he defended the covert arrangement in Lopez’s case, saying he did it to protect the victims and save the state from a potential $1.2 million lawsuit. “We always wanted to do what we thought were the wishes of the victims,” Silver said. “In this case, that was the intended motive. We believed at the time that the victims wanted a quiet solution to this matter.”
High-profile attorney Gloria Allred, who represents Pasarell and Hebert, suggested Silver’s mea culpa was disingenuous. She argued Silver should have reported the complaints to the Ethics Committee immediately.
“There’s no excuse for failing to perform what is their legal duty to investigate,” said Allred, who was in Charlotte as a member of the California delegation.
The Ethics Committee investigated and substantiated two other sexual harassment claims filed against Lopez.
Silver accepted the findings and, on Aug. 24, stripped Lopez of his Assembly seniority and leadership positions, leading to news of the scandal. The committee determined Lopez had physically and sexually harassed the two other staffers.
In the immediate aftermath of the committee’s findings, Lopez said he would not seek reelection as Brooklyn Democratic Party chairman this fall, but is committed to running for reelection to the Assembly in November.Following Silver’s comments to The News Monday, several New York Democrats said he decided to do what one called “damage control” after realizing the scandal was not going away and would be a distraction in Charlotte.
The fiasco has spawned dual investigations into the sexual harassment charges against Lopez, one by the Ethics Committee and another by the Staten Island district attorney, who has been appointed special prosecutor. Gov. Cuomo said he would reserve judgment on Silver’s role in the Lopez scandal until he reviews results from the two probes.
Silver said the controversy in Albany will not alter his plan to seek another term as speaker after the November election.
“I intend to continue as speaker if I’m fortunate to be reelected by the constituents of my district,” Silver said.
With Erin Durkin
Posted by Rabbi Nuchem Rosenberg at 9/04/2012
OUT HE SHOULD GO
Rabbi Nuchem Rosenberg