Now that Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has censured Assemblyman Vito Lopez and stripped him of his leadership role, some Democrats have an urge to move on. But this scandal won’t -- and shouldn’t -- go away.
After Lopez was accused of groping and sexually harassing female Assembly employees, Silver signed off on a secret settlement, agreeing to use $103,000 in public funds to settle the charges.
Why the secrecy? Silver told the Daily News: “We always wanted to do what we thought were the wishes of the victims. In this case, that was the intended motive. We believed at the time that the victims wanted a quiet solution to this matter.”
Yet the attorney for two female employees was skeptical. Gloria Allred said Silver should have reported the complaints to the Assembly Ethics Committee immediately. “There’s no excuse for failing to perform what is their legal duty to investigate,” she told the News.
Good-government advocates said they are troubled by the fact that Allred and Silver can't agree on whether the women wanted secrecy or not.
“Contradictory assumptions call out for an independent review," said Dick Dadey, of Citizens Union. "The Joint Commission on Public Ethics needs to find out what happened and why. It’s understandable to want to keep the names of victims private but the settlement and its terms should not have been. Too much of what goes on is secret in Albany and shouldn’t be because it’s the public’s business.”
The Speaker says he was wrong to enter into the secret settlement -- and has said he welcomes the investigation.
The Commission convened Tuesday -- and immediately went into closed session. It wasn’t about to enlighten the press or public about its secret deliberations.
Ronnie Eldridge, a former city councilwoman, lamented the fact that assemblywomen or female staffers never spoke out publicly about the alleged harassment.
"It's disgusting," she said. "Are they afraid to speak up?"
One remedy, she said, would be to elect new legislators.
"This harassment seems to be so much a part of the culture, it’s hard to fight," she said. "Until women, including legislators, speak up, it’s likely this can happen again.”
Silver says he asked Lopez to resign from the Assembly but he didn’t seem to hear him. Lopez, the Speaker said, was “basically inaudible … I got the impression he didn’t appreciate my advice.”
Perhaps more than one lawmaker needs a hearing examination. Certainly the voice of the people demanding a scandal-free legislature is not being heard.