Special prosecutor Daniel Donovan yesterday found no basis for criminal charges against Vito Lopez, the veteran Brooklyn assemblyman caught up in a sexual harassment case that’s lurid even by Albany’s laughable standards. But Donovan’s report and one by the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, also released yesterday, should alarm all New Yorkers who want to restore ethics, openness and honesty to state government.
The commission, known as JCOPE, paints an especially scathing picture of leading state Democrats as they flexed political muscle and spent taxpayer money to hush up an embarrassing case against one of their own.
The report reflects badly not just on Lopez but on Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and the Assembly staff, whose primary concern was not the well-being of Lopez’s victims, but damage control. It shows that sexism is still a disturbing strain in the legislature’s culture.
JCOPE says Lopez has victimized at least seven women in his office since 2010 — asking them among other things to wear low-cut blouses and high heels to work and telling them to massage him. It says Silver’s staff ignored internal Assembly rules by failing to refer the initial allegations of harassment to an Assembly ethics committee.
Donovan, who’s Staten Island’s district attorney, says the secrecy clause in the settlement that paid Lopez’s victims $103,000 in public money was not demanded by the women but by advocates for Lopez and the Assembly.
He criticizes state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman for not doing more to delete the confidentiality deal. Schneiderman says his policy on legal consultations of this kind has since been revised. State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, meanwhile, is feeling heat for not stopping the secret payments. He agreed yesterday that such deals need more transparency and review.
The question now is: What are New Yorkers going to do about all this? Lopez, who calls this “an all-out war against an ailing senior member,” needs to vanish from public office.
And the rest of the Albany circus must explain in detail how they’ll make things different the next time.