Assembly Democrats from around the Capital Region rallied behind Sheldon Silver Monday, as members of the minority Republicans called for the embattled speaker to resign his leadership position in wake of the role he played in the Vito Lopez sexual harassment scandal.
Fellow Democrats in the state Assembly voiced displeasure with Silver’s handling of the initial allegations lodged against Lopez, but they stopped short of calling for him to step down as speaker. Many said his acknowledgement of his shortcomings in the matter and his proposal for reforms would suffice as the conference moves forward.
“It was a mistake and yes, it could have been handled better,” said Patricia Fahy, a freshman assemblywoman from Delmar. “But the speaker was not the perpetrator here. Vito Lopez was.”
Phil Steck, a freshman assemblyman from Colonie, agreed. He said Silver did respond to the Lopez allegations, even if his reaction wasn’t as swift or substantive as many in his conference would have preferred.
“There was action,” he said. “It just wasn’t quickly enough or aggressive enough.”
Steck also questioned what would happen in the void of Silver’s leadership were the speaker to resign. He said the speaker’s replacement would ultimately be from downstate (as is Silver) — an area that has a dramatically larger population than upstate — and might not be nearly as responsive to the needs north of New York City.
“The power in the assembly is always going to be in the metropolitan area,” he said. “I feel that there is a grave risk if we didn’t have Sheldon Silver as speaker that we could get a speaker who didn’t show the same interest in the communities I represent.”
Others were satisfied by Silver’s humble apologies, both in conference and later during a news conference at the Capitol. John McDonald, a freshman assemblyman from Cohoes, said Silver’s acknowledgement of wrongdoing and the broad changes he outlined Monday seem adequate to ensure a similar scandal doesn’t happen in the future.
“The speaker was extremely contrite,” he said. “I’m pretty confident this will not happen again.”
Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara didn’t address Silver’s leadership position in a statement he released early Monday evening. The freshman legislator from Rotterdam, however, did call for a “zero tolerance” policy toward the behavior Lopez exhibited during his time in office.
“That includes mandatory reporting, using an independent investigator to look at any and all allegations brought forth and putting an end to confidential settlements,” he said in the statement.
But the assembly Republicans weren’t satisfied with Silver’s response. James Tedisco, a veteran lawmaker from Glenville, blasted the speaker and members of his conference for taking hollow steps that would do nothing to avert another sexual harassment scandal.
“It’s too little and it’s too late,” he said.
Tedisco said Silver’s leadership position was compromised, even though he technically did nothing illegal. He said Silver made a deal that helped Lopez continue his abhorrent behavior unabated.
“This is someone who enabled and emboldened Vito Lopez to continue to sexual harass women,” he said.