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Sheldon Silver: I told Vito Lopez to resign

NY Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver called on caucus

NY Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver called on caucus member Vito Lopez to step down. Credit: AP

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said Monday that he told Assemb. Vito Lopez he should resign in the wake of a sexual harassment scandal, but the embattled Brooklyn Democrat refused.

"I told him that I felt what he did and what was coming out was wrong, and I also told him that I felt the sanctions I had to impose on him would make him an ineffective representative of his constituents," Silver said just before entering a private event on the eve of the Democratic National Convention.

Speaking publicly for the first time about the issue, Silver (D-Manhattan) said he told Lopez that leaving would be best for him personally and for the state legislature as an institution.

"His response was inaudible," Silver continued. "But he indicated clearly to me that he is not resigning at this time. . . . He argued several things."

Silver added he would attempt to do "whatever is legal and appropriate" to force Lopez from office. But he said it's uncertain whether any actions can be taken since Lopez hasn't been convicted.

In 2010, the state Senate expelled Hiram Monserrate after he was convicted of a misdemeanor.

The Assembly Ethics Committee two weeks ago determined that Lopez violated the chamber's sexual harassment policy by trying to force contact with young female staffers.

Silver stripped Lopez of his post as Housing Committee chairman. Lopez announced he would resign as Kings County Democratic chairman, but would not leave the Assembly.

The Assembly subsequently disclosed that it had agreed to pay $135,000 to settle a previous sexual harassment claim against Lopez. About $103,000 of that was paid in state funds.

Silver said Monday that he mishandled the situation and that he should have referred the complaint to the ethics committee and not agreed to a confidential settlement. He said he didn't want to discourage other people from coming forward with similar complaints.

Silver, leader of the Assembly since 1994, said there have been no other similar sexual harassment settlements during his tenure.

The state Joint Commission on Public Ethics last week sent notices to the Assembly and other state offices to preserve materials related to the case.

Silver said he welcomed the investigation.

"I think it will show that we made some mistakes, but I think it will show we acted in good faith," he said.

The Brooklyn district attorney's office announced a criminal investigation and on Friday appointed Staten Island District Attorney Dan Donovan as special prosecutor.

At the convention kickoff breakfast Monday, many New York Democrats expressed support for Silver, noting that he acknowledged he mishandled the incident.

Silver also put an end to speculation that he might not fulfill his role in announcing the New York delegation's vote at the convention which opens Tuesday with a keynote address from San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro and a speech by first lady Michelle Obama.

"I have been doing this for many years," Silver said, "and there should be no change."

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