Vito Lopez: Let voters decide; ethics panel meets

Assemb. Vito Lopez (D-Brooklyn)

Assemb. Vito Lopez (D-Brooklyn) (Credit: Bryan Pace, 2001)

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ALBANY -- As the state ethics commission met privately with staff investigators Tuesday, Assemb. Vito Lopez (D-Brooklyn) remained defiant in the wake of calls for him to resign over sexual harassment allegations.

In a statement late Tuesday, Lopez called the allegations against him "politically motivated" and said voters should determine whether he continues to serve. "In recent days, outside individuals and interest groups have asked for me to resign," Lopez said. "I will not capitulate to those self-serving tactics and demands."

Earlier in the day, state Republican chairman Ed Cox called on Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver to resign his leadership post for approving $103,080 in public money for a settlement with two of Lopez's accusers.

"Enough is enough. The line must be drawn here," Cox said. "For the sake of female officials and staffers in the Assembly -- and indeed for the sake of all New Yorkers -- Sheldon Silver must step down as speaker of the New York State Assembly."

Silver spokesman Michael Whyland declined to comment on Cox's remarks.

The Joint Commission on Public Ethics did not disclose the topic of the hastily called meeting, but Lopez was expected to be its focus and the commission's investigative team sat at the table in Albany through the nearly 2 1/2-hour closed-door session.

"There's nothing that we can discuss publicly," commission spokesman John Milgrim said.

The commission scheduled the meeting last week, after Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said it should investigate the allegations of sexual harassment and groping by Lopez and the approval by Silver (D-Manhattan) of a secret payment to settle two cases.

Most of the commission members participated Tuesday by video conference. Chief investigator Patrick Coultry and director of investigations and enforcement Letizia Tagliafiero attended the meeting in person in Albany.

In order for the panel to issue subpoenas in the case, eight of its 14 members would need to vote to begin a probe.

Silver has said he will explore whether the Assembly can force Lopez out. Lopez hasn't been charged criminally, though a special prosecutor is investigating.

"If there was a criminal charge, a criminal conviction, that would be a different set of circumstances," Silver said Tuesday at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C.

A call to Lopez's lawyer, Gerald Lefcourt, was not returned.

With Yancey Roy

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