ALBANY -- New York's ethics commission, following attacks on its credibility, Monday is expected to consider widening its investigation into sexual harassment allegations against Assemb. Vito Lopez and the handling of the case by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.
The Joint Commission on Public Ethics hastily called a midmorning meeting after it was criticized following media reports that it would only investigate allegations against the powerful Brooklyn Democrat and not look at Silver (D-Manhattan). The reports generated outcries by Republicans and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat.
Cuomo, who was the force behind the creation of the commission known as JCOPE in 2011, said Friday that if the independent commission did not look into all elements of the scandal, he would impanel a special commission to launch an inquiry.
That sparked Ravi Batra, the most outspoken of the 14 JCOPE commissioners, to resign. He said Cuomo basically wanted the investigation "fast tracked" and that he feared the commission would become a "political tool." He said his time on the panel "made me feel as if I was in the midst of something sinister."
Neither Cuomo's office nor JCOPE would comment Sunday on Batra's criticism. Numerous commission members didn't return calls or emails.
The commission hasn't disclosed the purpose of Monday's meeting, but a source said it is to considering expanding the scope of the Lopez inquiry.
In a separate case, the Assembly Ethics Committee censured Lopez after it determined he violated the chamber's sexual harassment policy by trying to force contact with young staffers. Silver stripped Lopez of his committee chairmanship and asked him to resign. Lopez refused, although he has said he'll step down as head of the influential Kings County Democratic Committee. Silver since has said he mishandled the first case by not sending it to the ethics committee.
Republicans have jumped on the controversy, trying to use it in this fall's elections. State GOP chairman Ed Cox, congressional candidates and legislative candidates have either called for an investigation of Silver or his resignation.
A special prosecutor is pursuing a criminal investigation that will cover not only the allegations against Lopez but also the $135,000 payment -- $103,000 of it in public money -- that Silver authorized to settle claims by two former staffers. The settlement is bound by a confidentiality clause. Staten Island District Attorney Dan Donovan, a Republican who ran for attorney general in 2010, was tapped to take over the investigation.