Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is facing increased pressure from good-government and women’s groups after two reports this week alleged sought to protect Assemblyman Vito Lopez from sexual harassment complaints made by Lopez’s aides.
The state Republican Committee is calling Silver, a Manhattan Democrat, to resign as speaker, a post he has held since 1994. Common Cause, a good-government group, said today that the Democratic-led Assembly should hold a leadership vote on whether to retain Silver.
“We call on the Assembly majority to hold a public leadership vote so that their constituents can see where they stand and that they take seriously the leadership and staff’s abrogations of responsibility,” Susan Lerner, Common Cause’s executive director, said in a statement.
Reports on Wednesday from Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan and the state Joint Commission on Public Ethics were critical of Lopez and Silver.
Lopez, the former Brooklyn Democratic chairman, was not charged criminally, but he was alleged to have for years sexually harassed his young female aides – having them massage him, taking them on trips and even asking one to feel the tumors on his body. He has cancer.
“The creepiness factor with his tactics to manipulate and coerce and control and psychologically abuse his victims is utterly depraved,” Sonia Ossorio, president of the National Organization for Women’s New York City branch, said on “The Capitol Pressroom.”
Ossorio said Silver should be held accountable for not immediately reporting the harassment complaints against Lopez to the Assembly Ethics Committee. Instead, the reports found that Silver reached a private settlement for $103,000 with Lopez’s first two accusers, and his staff and Lopez pushed for a confidentially agreement with the accusers.
Only after other women came forward with similar complaints against Lopez did Silver refer those charges to the Assembly Ethics Committee. The committee then stripped Lopez of his leadership posts last August.
Silver has acknowledged he should have forwarded the initial complaints to the proper authorities. He has called on Lopez to resign; Lopez has refuted the complaints and refused to resign.
Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Morelle, D-Irondequoit, Monroe County, backed Silver today. Morelle is second in command in the Assembly.
“I think the speaker has acknowledged that he made an error in judgment and in the future will not try to resolve these things internally and will send them immediately to investigators,” Morelle said after an event in Rochester.
Morelle added that, “I think the report makes clear that there’s no culpability on his part as it relates to any legal findings. I think we’ve learned from it and in the future, we will handle these differently.”
State GOP chairman Ed Cox called on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to ask for Silver to resign. The Democratic governor has yet to comment on the latest reports, and Cuomo has been pushing to strengthen women’s rights in the state.
“Sex abuse is not a partisan issue. If the governor is serious about a ‘women’s agenda,’ he will take every appropriate action to ensure that the New York state Assembly is safe for female staff members,” Cox said in a statement. “ That action begins with joining our call for Sheldon Silver to resign the speakership and Vito Lopez to resign from the Assembly.”