TODAY'S PAPER
42° Good Evening
42° Good Evening
NewsRegion/State

Silver clears air with women Democrats

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) during a news

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) during a news conference at the Capitol. (May 20, 2013) Credit: AP

ALBANY -- In what was described as a "cathartic" session, state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver held a breakfast meeting Thursday with women members of his Democratic conference to try to clear the air over his mishandling of the Vito Lopez sexual harassment scandal.

Held at Silver's legislative office across the street from the State Capitol, female legislators said they aired concerns about the episode and were generally content with what they heard from Silver, whom some described as "humbled and apologetic." No one expressed a desire for Silver to resign, a number of attendees said.

"It's a very serious issue and I thought it was handled very well," said Assemb. Michelle Schimel (D-Great Neck). "I'm satisfied with the answers I received."

"He was very responsive," said Assemb. Michaelle "Mickey" Solages (D-Elmont).

Lopez, 71, a once-powerful Brooklyn lawmaker, resigned effective May 20 after an ethics investigation found he violated state Public Officers' Law by routinely groping and harassing young female staffers. A separate criminal prosecutor determined no "chargeable crime" in his jurisdiction.

The matter first came to light last summer after Silver disclosed he had agreed to spend $103,000 in taxpayers' money in a confidential agreement to settle claims by two women against Lopez. Silver acknowledged the payment after two other former Lopez staffers came forward with complaints.

Silver since admitted he violated Assembly policy by not immediately sending the first complaints to an ethics panel for investigation and said his actions were based on a belief he was acting in the "best interests" of the staffers -- though the criminal investigation said he was acting mainly to shield the Assembly.

After Lopez resigned, a shaken Silver admitted to a "glaring" failure, and proposed that any sexual harassment claim be handled by an outside investigator, not the speaker or his legal staff.

Assemb. Amy Paulin (D-Scarsdale), one of the lawmakers at Thursday's meeting, said it featured "loud voices but not out of anger." "What was very clear is that people are still feeling extraordinarily emotional about what happened," she said.

Paulin said her colleagues are willing to give time for Silver's "reform" ideas to develop. Though some Republicans have called for Silver to step down, only two Democrats have done so. "There is a lot of support for the speaker," she said.

Several said Silver appeared humbled. "I think it was hard for him," said Assemb. Sandra Galef (D-Ossining). "I think any time he talks about this, it's hard."

Michael Whyland, Silver's spokesman, downplayed the significance of the meeting, saying: "The speaker regularly has meetings with members and it is always good to hear their ideas and talk about how we can move forward on issues important to them."

State & Region