Gov. Andrew Cuomo today said the state’s joint ethics board should investigate sexual harassment allegations made against embattled Assemblyman Vito Lopez, though he can’t compel the board to launch a probe.
Speaking to reporter’s outside of his office, Cuomo said it’s important for the public to know “the facts” before drawing conclusions. Cuomo had previously called on the longtime Brooklyn Democrat to resign if the allegations were true, a call he reiterated today.
“I said I thought … if these allegations are true, Mr. Lopez should resign. Assemblyman Lopez says they’re not true, and Assemblyman Lopez is entitled to the truth also and the people of the state of New York are entitled to the truth,” Cuomo said in a statement. “I think JCOPE should do an investigation of the allegations that have been made, and then let’s have the facts.”
Lopez was formally censured and stripped of his seniority last week after the Assembly Ethics Committee heard “credible” evidence that he sexually harassed two female staffers. The Assembly also paid out a $103,080 legal settlement in June—shortly before two accusers filed a formal complaint—but has declined to say whether that money went to settle a claim against Lopez.
Lopez announced today he would not seek another term in his post as Brooklyn Democratic chairman, but he steadfastly denied the allegations and said he would continue as an Assemblyman.
The Joint Commission on Public Ethics launched last year, and has oversight of both the executive and legislative branches of state government. Cuomo can’t formally direct the board to launch an investigation because it is legally independent of his office.
In a statement earlier today—before Cuomo made his comments—JCOPE spokesman John Milgrim declined comment on the charges against Lopez.
“The Commission does not confirm or comment on what may or may not be an investigative matter before it,” he said.
And adding yet another angle to this ongoing story, high-profile attorney Gloria Allred issued a statement today denying that she had ever sought to prevent an ethics board from pursuing claims against anyone her clients’ had accused.
The New York Times reported that Allred represented at least one of Lopez’ accusers that was paid a financial settlement in June, and the claim was not referred to the Assembly’s ethics board. An Assembly spokesman said yesterday that the only reason a claim wouldn’t be referred to the board is if a victim requests that it doesn’t.
“In any sex harassment case that our firm or our New York co-counsel and her firm, Mariann Wang of Cuti Hecker Wang, has ever been involved in, we have never requested or insisted that a legislative committee or other body not proceed with an investigation,” Allred said in her statement. “To the contrary, we believe that it is in the interest of good government and working women that there is full accountability and transparency about workplace sex harassment and that there should be full investigations of accusations of workplace harassment.”