To be sure, longtime Brooklyn Assemblyman Vito Lopez has paid a stiff penalty for sexually harassing — verbally and physically — three female staff members: Last Friday, Speaker Sheldon Silver formally censured him, stripped him of his Housing Committee chairmanship and reduced his staff allocation to freshman levels.
But Silver’s accompanying assertion that “the Assembly has a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to sexual harassment” rang hollow over the weekend when a story surfaced that there had been similar charges lodged against Lopez earlier this summer, settled, in part, with a payment of at least $103,000 in taxpayers’ money, perhaps even more. What’s going on, Shelly?
The speaker hasn’t done much talking about the earlier settlement, which according to the New York Times was paid by the state June 13 — well before the incidents that precipitated last week’s action. His staff implies the settlement was kept confidential at the request of the victim, and while there may have been no need to name her, Silver still should have made some effort to punish Lopez at the time, and gone public with the basic charges. It’s bad enough when one of the most powerful members of the Assembly breaks the law, but when resolving the issue involves the expenditure of public funds, it’s inexcusable to keep the story secret.
Everybody and their uncle has been calling on Lopez to resign since last week’s story broke, and the calls, which include those of Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Sen. Charles Schumer, have intensified since the other shoe dropped over the weekend. It goes without saying that if he did what a bipartisan Assembly ethics committee determined he did, he is unfit to serve. He should step down at least temporarily, pending an investigation by the state’s new Joint Commission on Public Ethics. And if the Assembly committee’s allegations are affirmed, Albany County District Attorney David Soares should be called in to consider criminal charges.
As for Silver, when is he going to stop covering up for members who don’t know how to behave themselves?