Upon word that two more state officials have joined the long list of those with ethical or legal troubles, we wrote yesterday it was hard to know whether that was cause for hope or despair. There’s hope that Albany is finally cleaning up its act, but despair that the line of officials who’ve abused the public’s trust appears endless.
One day later it’s clear: Despair wins. Especially since it now appears the lechery of one of those officials has cost the public money.
Assemb. Vito Lopez (D-Brooklyn) was censured and stripped of a committee chairmanship Friday after the Assembly Ethics Committee found he sexually harassed two staffers. But it seems those allegations of unwanted groping, kissing and verbal harassment -- which Lopez denies but ethics officials found credible -- weren’t the only such accusations against him.
A previous sexual harassment claim was surreptitiously settled earlier this year in an arrangement that cost taxpayers $103,000. A voucher for that money that surfaced Monday doesn’t identify who got paid or which public official was involved, but Lopez has been fingered in news reports.
It’s outrageous for officials to keep the public in the dark while tapping taxpayer money to compensate the victim of an elected official’s randy indiscretions.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan), who authorized the payment, has some explaining to do. His spokesman said “the Assembly would only keep such a matter confidential at the express insistence of the victim.”
So, shield the victim's identity. It’s the right thing to do. But a perpetrating elected official isn’t entitled to the same deference when the public purse is tapped on his behalf. Taxpayers deserve to know exactly what happened, why Silver and the Assembly decided to pay up and whether it was proper or legal to use public money to make this claim go away.