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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Lopez resigned -- should Silver follow?

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, left, walks with Assemblyman

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, left, walks with Assemblyman Vito Lopez, to an affordable housing news conference at the Capitol in Albany. (April 18, 2012) Credit: AP

One down.

One to go.

The forced resignation of an unbowed Vito Lopez from the state Assembly on Monday ought to be followed by that of Democrat Sheldon Silver as Assembly speaker.

Silver -- for a second time since 2001 -- mishandled sexual harassment allegations from women.

Lopez, 71, a Democrat from Brooklyn, quit this week after public release of two reports cataloging numerous allegations that Lopez groped female staffers in his office.

The reports also, however, detail Silver's seeming blindness to the seriousness of the allegations.

As speaker -- Silver has held that leadership job since 1994 -- he was supposed to pass along those allegations to an ethics commission for investigation.

Silver did not.

Instead, he signed off on a confidential agreement to settle complaints by two former Lopez staffers. Part of that secret agreement was a $103,000 settlement funded by the taxpayers of New York State.

That agreement prompted criminal and civil investigations that opened up to public scrutiny details about how Lopez went on to harass other former employees.

Silver likely expects to ride this one out.

But pressure from a variety of quarters, including a public fed up with corruption and other scandals emanating from Albany, was enough to drive him to apologize, repeatedly, on Monday for his actions.

Silver, according to a Newsday report, appeared to be visibly shaken during his lengthy mea culpa.

He promised that he and his staff would never handle complaints like that again, and that he was implementing a new system to make sure.

That's the route too many public officials, whether in Albany or Washington, take.

They believe it is enough to say they are sorry and then quickly move on to something new in an attempt to dissipate the public's disgust.

Not so fast, Mr. Silver.

In 2001, according to news reports, Silver, a Manhattan Democrat, sat eating pretzels as he listened to a young woman allege she had been raped by Silver's former chief counsel, Michael Boxley.

The woman never filed charges and a legislative investigation was inconclusive, but Boxley -- whom Silver initially supported -- two years later would plead guilty to misdemeanor charges of sexual misconduct after a second woman alleged rape.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and lawmakers now are winding up negotiations on key issues including casinos, LIPA restructuring and abortion rights as the legislative session draws to a close.

But Silver appears not to be thinking of stepping aside and leaving those negotiations to someone else.

That's too bad.

Silver had more than one chance to lead when women alleged rape and harassment.

He failed.


Which is why being sorry cannot be enough. This time, Silver ought to do the right thing and step down.

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