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And so, the long political career of Assemb. Vito Lopez (D-Brooklyn), resigning effective Monday, has crashed and burned in stages since the middle of last year.
Some of the falling debris hit Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan), of course. He’s admitted for months that when two female staffers claimed sex harassment in Lopez’s office, the house’s ethics committee should have been notified to investigate. Instead, a confidential settlement was crafted with $103,000 paid by the Assembly and $32,000 paid by Lopez, now 71. Only later, when new complainants from Lopez’s staff came forward, were official probes launched.
Despite shouts from political detractors for Silver’s ouster -- mindful of the previous Michael Boxley scandal -- Silver's allies cite last week’s graphic and extensively-detailed findings from the state’s Joint Commission on Public Ethics as offering at least some legal and bureaucratic rationale for the initial misstep. They note that, according to the report, Bill Collins and Carolyn Kearns in the Assembly majority counsel’s office initially sought to establish whether the first harassed staffer intended to trigger a full investigation by sending Assembly official Yolande Page a copy of an email to Lopez slamming his bizarre behavior.
They heard back weeks later. Lawyer Mariann Wang contacted Silver’s aides and said she and attorney Gloria Allred were representing the woman and a fired colleague. Wang, in her letter, offered to resolve the harassment matter “through a confidential mediation process” — and also said the Assembly and Lopez were to refrain from “discussing these allegations further with our clients directly.”
Silver aides, including counsel Jim Yates, took up this “confidential process” offer. They also took Wang’s letter to mean that the complainant wasn’t to be questioned in an Assembly ethics probe.
But the commission also blows a huge hole in that presumption. When interviewed, Silver, Yates, Collins, and Kearns “acknowledged that nothing in Wang’s letter, or the law, precluded the Assembly from asking Wang if her clients would consent to be interviewed for an investigation,” the report said. The officials conceded they never asked Wang that question.
The scandal blew open in July of last year after new complaints arose from subsequent staffers. What proved to be habitual harassment by the longtime Brooklyn party boss apparently could no longer be addressed by a secret agreement. Lopez first was stripped of his powerful housing committee post, then his longtime chairmanship of the Kings County Democratic Committee, then resigned effected June 20 while faced with expulsion, and made it effective Monday. Whether he even tries to still run for City Council in the fall is almost beside the point when it comes to the larger power scheme. The state ethics commission report issued last week already piles up detailed evidence that portrays him as a predatory lech.