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Vito Lopez to resign, seek council seat

ALBANY -- Embattled Assemb. Vito Lopez said Friday he will resign from office not because of the sexual harassment allegations against him but to run for New York City Council.

The announcement sparked outrage from both sides of the political aisle and a vow from the Assembly leader to begin procedures Monday to expel Lopez from the chamber.

Lopez (D-Brooklyn) said he would continue in his Assembly post until June 20, the last day of the 2013 legislative session, because he felt "obligated" to represent his constituents.

While maintaining innocence against numerous sexual harassment charges, the 71-year-old said he wanted to concentrate on running for New York City Council.

"I have made no secret that I intend to run for New York City Council in November, which requires me to resign my current term" in the Assembly, Lopez said. "Nevertheless, because the citizens of my district voted me back into office last November by an overwhelming majority, I feel obligated to serve out this session of the Assembly. I therefore announce that as of June 20, 2013, the last day of the session, I resign my position."

Just minutes after Lopez's statement hit the media, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) said he would stick to a decision he announced late Thursday night to begin expulsion proceedings Monday when the chamber returns to Albany.

Silver has come under fire for his handling of the matter: He approved a $103,000 confidential settlement in taxpayers' money to end harassment claims by two former staffers instead of sending the case to an ethics committee for investigation.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and others quickly expressed outrage toward Lopez and support for expulsion.

"Vito Lopez should not spend another day in office, let alone a whole month," Cuomo said Friday. "He should resign effective immediately and if he does not, he must be expelled."

"Anyone who read the report . . . should recognize that immediate action is required, not a prolonged exit from the halls of the Legislature," Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb (R-Canandaigua) said in a statement. "June 20th is not good enough -- the time for Mr. Lopez to leave is now."

Kolb referred to criminal and civil investigations published Wednesday that outlined sordid details about Lopez, once one of the Assembly's most powerful members, routinely groping and harassing young female staffers. He allegedly told them to wear low-cut dresses and high heels, but no bra, and pressured them to kiss him on the cheek, massage his hands, go on trips and stay in hotel rooms with him overnight. Refuse and they faced firing.

A special prosecutor said although Lopez's behavior was "alarming," no "chargeable crime" occurred. But a separate state ethics panel said a there was a "substantial basis to conclude" that Lopez's conduct violated the New York Public Officers Law.

That finding will form the basis of Silver's campaign to expel Lopez, which would take three formal steps. The 150-member Assembly would have to first ask the Assembly Ethics Committee to consider expulsion as it reviews the ethics report. The committee would have to determine a sanction and recommend it back to the full Assembly for action.

In his statement, Lopez noted that the special prosecutor decided not to file charges.

"I have maintained my innocence throughout this matter and I believe no criminal investigation should ever have been conducted," the assemblyman said.

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