Seven Assembly Republicans today called on prosecutors to investigate whether Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver broke any laws when he privately reached a $103,000 settlement with women who said they were sexually harassed by disgraced Assemblyman Vito Lopez.
The Republicans also called for a vote in the Democratic-led Assembly on whether to retain Silver, a Manhattan Democrat, as speaker and for Silver to return the settlement money to the state. Assemblyman Kieran Michael Lalor, R-Fishkill, Dutchess County, said more members—Republicans and Democrats—are afraid to speak out against Silver, who controls office budgets, leadership posts and campaign cash.
“Speaker Silver is a bully,” Lalor said. “He’s bullied down opposition to the point where there is very little opposition. Some of his tactics have come right up to the line of what’s ethical and what’s not.”
Two Democrats have called for Silver’s resignation after two state reports showed that Silver didn’t act quickly to address concerns made by female aides to Lopez, who was accused of repeatedly sexually harassing them. After the quiet settlement with two of Lopez’s accusers, Silver forwarded the next two complaints to the Assembly Ethics Commission—something Silver has since apologized for not doing with the first cases.
“That I allowed this system to be bypassed in the first instance, even though I believed I was acting in good faith, was a failure on my part and now that we know the atrociousness of the misconduct, it only makes the failure more glaring,” Silver said at a news conference May 20.
After the reports were released May 15 outlining Lopez’s actions, Assembly Democrats said they would seek to remove Lopez if he didn’t resign. He did resign, and Democrats rallied around Silver—despite calls from editorial boards and Republicans that he resign as speaker.
Assemblyman Bill Nojay, R-Pittsford, Monroe County, said the Albany County District Attorney David Soares should investigate whether laws were broken when the settlement was reached. The settlement was forwarded to the state Comptroller’s Office as “legal services,” which Nojay said hid the intent of the payment.
“That’s fraud,” Nojay said. “If that occurred in a private business setting, the person who did that would be fired and if there was culpability, if there was intention to defraud, then there would be criminal charges, at least looked at.”