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Vito Lopez scandal: GOP lawmakers urge Silver to quit

NY State Assemblyman Steve Katz (99th District), left,

NY State Assemblyman Steve Katz (99th District), left, holds a press conference at his office in Maopac, with Assemblywomen Claudia Tenney (115th District), right, calling for the resignation of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, in light of revelations that he used taxpayer funds to secretly pay off sexual harassment allegations against fellow Assembly member Vito Lopez. (Sept. 4, 2012) Photo Credit: John Meore

Two Republican state Assembly members are calling on Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) to resign in the wake of a sexual harassment case involving Assemb. Vito Lopez (D-Brooklyn).

At a news conference Tuesday, Assembly members Steve Katz (R-Yorktown) and Claudia Tenney (R-New Hartford) said Silver's secretive payments to settle the allegations were "if not illegal, highly unethical" and that he should step down.

"Mr. Silver's moral myopia in this sexual harassment matter is an insult to every levelheaded voter -- regardless of gender," Katz told reporters at his district office in Mahopac. "Women were groped and violated and he used taxpayer funds as hush money."

Echoing those sentiments, New York GOP Chairman Ed Cox called on Silver to relinquish his post as Assembly Speaker.

"As Speaker, Sheldon Silver has allowed a culture of abuse to permeate the Democratic Assembly caucus and has demonstrated a manifest disregard for the wellbeing and safety of female Assembly staff members," Cox said in a statement issued Tuesday afternoon.

Lopez, who maintains he was improperly accused, faces a criminal investigation being conducted by Staten Island District Attorney Dan Donovan. A message left at his Brooklyn district office wasn't immediately returned Tuesday morning.

Meanwhile, the state's Joint Commission on Public Ethics is expected to take up a sexual harassment case in the Assembly beginning Tuesday in a special meeting. Several good-government groups have filed formal complaints against Lopez.

Silver, who is attending the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., this week, has admitted that he brokered a secret settlement in June with two former female staffers who had accused Lopez of inappropriate touching when they worked for him.

The sexual harassment settlement, which allegedly was reviewed by aides to New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, included $32,000 in funds from Lopez and $103,800 in taxpayer dollars.

A confidentiality clause in drafts of the settlement, which still hasn't been released publicly, states the accusers can't talk about Lopez in public and that Lopez admitted no guilt, according to The Associated Press.

Additional sexual harassment claims against Lopez were reported in July, and the Assembly ethics committee censured him in August. Silver then stripped Lopez of his leadership position and stipend. Only a felony or expulsion by legislators can remove a lawmaker, and Lopez insists he never sexually harassed anyone.

Silver, 68, is one of the longest-serving legislative leaders in New York history and in August won a national leadership award from the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Silver has called on Lopez, chair of the Brooklyn Democratic Party and a longtime colleague, to resign his post as a state lawmaker.

Silver told Newsday "it is unclear at this point" what legal options the Assembly has for banishing Lopez, and that he welcomes the state public ethics investigation.

"I think it will show we made some mistakes but that we acted legally, ethically and morally."

With Dan Janison

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