NBC 4 New York
Embattled state assemblyman Vito Lopez makes his first public comments since allegations of sexual harassment surfaced, appearing at a fundraiser as part of a possible bid for City Council. He told reporters, "If anything I've become the insurgent, independent candidate in this race."
Tarnished by a sexual harassment scandal, a state assemblyman who lost much of his political power in Albany has filed to run for a New York City Council seat, the city Campaign Finance Board said Monday.
Assemblyman Vito Lopez, a Democrat, officially filed paperwork for a bid for a Brooklyn council seat he has been said to be considering for months, despite the harassment allegations and a series of health problems.
His assembly office directed calls to a number for his political committee; the calls were answered and then cut off, and no one immediately responded to a text message.
The once-influential Lopez lost his job as Brooklyn Democratic party boss and was stripped of his Assembly leadership role last year after allegations emerged that he had sexually harassed female staffers, which he denies. Two claims were secretly settled for $103,000, using taxpayer money.
The state's Joint Commission on Public Ethics investigated the agreement. The findings were filed with the Legislative Ethics Committee but haven't been disclosed. Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan, appointed as a special prosecutor, is investigating.
The investigation gripped the state political scene last summer with tales of a groping assemblyman and a confidential, publicly funded settlement sanctioned by powerful Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. Protesters and some politicians, including Silver, urged Lopez to resign, but he refused, saying his constituents should get to decide who should represent them. They did, re-electing him in November to the seat he has held since 1984.
Silver has said that he regrets making the secret June deal but that the accusers requested it.
Lopez, 71, was diagnosed with leukemia in 1993 and announced in 2010 that he had esophageal cancer. He said in February that he had pneumonia for the second time in nine months, his mobility was limited and his health was "deteriorating."
Still, talk circulated of a possible council run, especially after a panel that draws council district maps crafted one last fall that popped his block into the district he's now filed for — currently held by term-limited Democratic Councilwoman Diana Reyna — rather than the less politically appealing district where he'd been. The maps were redrawn after criticism.
It's possible to run for a district from outside it, but a successful candidate would have to move in.
Also, in New York, an elected official can run for another elective office but cannot hold both offices at the same time.
Last week, Lopez registered a council campaign committee with the state Board of Elections.
Lopez' expected City Council bid has ignited outrage from women's advocates and from an opponent, Antonio Reynoso, who is Reyna's chief of staff.
Local chapters of the National Organization for Women held a rally last week to endorse Reynoso, saying Lopez would be unfit for office. Messages for Reynoso weren't immediately returned Monday, but he told the Daily News last week that Lopez "shamed himself and the Assembly and he would do the same in the City Council."
The election is in November.
Associated Press writer Michael Gormley contributed to this report from Albany, N.Y.