ALBANY — Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has called for an independent investigation of a sexual harassment complaint against Sen. Jeff Klein, the State Senate’s second-most powerful leader.
Klein (D-Bronx) has denied the accusation that he forcibly kissed then staff member Erica Vladimer almost three years ago outside an Albany bar and said he would cooperate with any probe. Klein heads the Independent Democratic Conference, a breakaway group that shares power with Senate Republicans.
“Every allegation of sexual misconduct must be taken seriously,” Cuomo said in a statement late Wednesday night, just hours after Huffington Post published a report on Vladimer’s allegation.
Last week, Cuomo proposed new measures to address sexual harassment claims in state government.
“I agree with Senator Klein and with Senator Krueger that this disturbing situation should be investigated, and I believe it should be done immediately and independently,” he said Thursday.
Cuomo referred to state Sen. Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan), who, in the Huffington Post story, called for an independent review of Vladimer’s claim.
Krueger declined to comment further Thursday out of a fear of “politicizing an issue that is not about partisanship, but about a young woman and her experience of sexual misconduct,” said Krueger’s spokesman, Justin Flagg.
Late Thursday afternoon, Klein asked the state Joint Commission on Public Ethics to investigate the case. In a one-page letter, he notes his attorney has been interviewing current and former staffers about the allegation since Jan. 4. That’s when Klein said he was first contacted by the Huffington Post to comment on the article it was preparing on the accusation.
“This alleged incident did not happen, period,” Klein wrote.
The incident is alleged to have occurred March 31, 2015, at a bar and grill a few blocks away from the State Capitol. Vladimer left her job in May 2015.
On Thursday, Vladimer wrote on her Facebook page: “Sen. Klein abused his power by violating my body, and ultimately my mind and soul. Sadly, my experience with sexual harassment in Albany was more insidious than this one moment in time with this one man.”
Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) called on Thursday for an “immediate independent investigation outside the Senate” and called the allegation “extremely disturbing.”
Stewart-Cousins and Krueger are part of the mainline Democrats in the Senate. Klein broke away from them to form the IDC, which has a power-sharing agreement with the Republican majority.
The Senate’s Republican majority said Thursday the investigation must be made outside the Senate.
“I know Senator Klein to be a good and decent person who treats others with respect,” said Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport). “We take every allegation of sexual harassment seriously and will continue to encourage everyone to come forward.”Flanagan said Thursday that no complaint had been made to the Senate.
“We will continue to do everything possible to ensure that the policies and procedures in place are best serving our members and our staff, and fostering a safe workplace,” Flanagan said. “While it may be within the scope of other entities, an investigation into this matter is not within the jurisdiction of the Senate.”
Klein allies also pushed for quick action.
“Clearly, these charges need to be investigated immediately,” said Sonia Ossorio, president of the National Organization for Women-New York. “This just drives home the need for a thorough review of policies to address sexual harassment and passage of legislative reforms proposed by the governor. Time is up in Albany, too.”
Klein told reporters Wednesday that another staffer told him a day after the celebration at the bar that there was a “rumor” he had acted inappropriately toward a woman staffer. But he said he dismissed the rumor because it wasn’t true.
“She left the IDC and she left, probably in May, shortly after the budget” was passed, Klein said of Vladimer. “She actually wrote me a letter of resignation . . . to thank me.” That letter, provided by Klein’s lawyer hired for the case, included thanks, but no reference to any conflict.
An investigation could be done by the state Joint Commission on Public Ethics, headed by Cuomo’s appointees. The chance of a review by the Senate Ethics Committee is unlikely because members of that committee include IDC members who have already made public statements that they have “complete confidence in Senator Klein, and we stand by him.”
Those members include state Sen. Diane Savino (D-Staten Island), Kline’s longtime partner, who said she was at the bar that night and there was no kiss or other inappropriate behavior.