Defying Silver: Assembly Wannabe Frank Commisso's Cojones Could Spell Political Suicide
Frank Commisso Jr. currently serves on the Albany Common Council representing the city's 15th Ward. He's also running for Assembly as a Democrat -- and may have just committed political suicide.
Enter Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, one of the most powerful politicians in New York, who currently is catching some of the shrapnel from the Vito Lopez sex scandal -- as we've chronicled, Silver swept allegations of sexual misconduct by Lopez under the rug by paying off two alleged victims with more than $130,000 in taxpayer money, which Commisso finds to be about as appalling as we do.
So, the wannabe lawmaker announced today that if he's elected to the Assembly, he will not support Silver for another term as speaker -- which makes him the only Democrat to even acknowledge that his party's uber-powerful leader handles sex abuse cases about as well as the Catholic Church.
Further reading on Lopez's pervy-ness:
"This has been a stain on the State Legislature and Speaker Silver's direct involvement would cause any responsible Assembly member or candidate to question whether or not he should continue in his leadership role as Speaker," Commisso Jr. said in a statement issued this morning. "Contrary to the spirit of the Assembly's own policies, Speaker Silver's regrettable actions clearly indicate a lack of sensitivity to the victimization of a number of women employed by the Assembly. That is why in 2013 I will not support Sheldon Silver for another term as Assembly Speaker."
As Commisso points out, Lopez's pervy-ness isn't the first time Silver's covered up allegations of sexual abuse to get his buddies out of trouble.
In 2001, a young female staffer accused the speaker's former chief counsel J. Michael Boxley of sexually assaulting her in his apartment. Rather than go to police, she opted to pursue the matter through the Assembly, which turned out to be a mistake.
The investigation into Boxley was soon closed (with a little help from Silver), and he remained on Silver's staff as if nothing ever happened.
Two years later, Boxley pleaded guilty to sexual misconduct -- in a sweetheart deal that kept him out of jail -- for an attack on a different woman. Then, in 2006, Silver and the Assembly agreed to pay $500,000 to a Jane Doe because the speaker failed to properly investigate the initial accusations and for "tolerating a culture of sexual harassment in the Assembly."
In both Lopez's and Boxley's cases, it seems the second wave of attacks could have potentially been avoided if the two men didn't think they had Silver in their pockets to sweep the matters under the rug.
Silver, as we mentioned, is one of the most powerful politicians in New York, and arguably is the most powerful Democrat (with the exception, maybe, of Governor Andrew Cuomo). Crossing him has proven to be a bad idea -- take the case of former Assemblyman Mike Bragman, for example.
In 2000, Bragman attempted a coup to remove Silver as speaker. It failed -- and Silver stripped him of privileges, staff, and assigned him an office "the size of a broom closet." Bragman and his supporters were then muscled out of office by primary challengers backed by Silver.
Regardless, Commisso's taking on Silver is ballsy -- unfortunately, it's also pretty damn stupid for a wet-behind-the-ears wannabe Democratic assemblyman.
See Commisso's full statement below.
State Assembly candidate Frank Commisso Jr. today announced that he will not support Sheldon Silver for another term as Speaker. Commisso Jr.'s statement comes in the wake of a sexual harassment scandal in which multiple women have alleged Brooklyn Assemblyman Vito Lopez sexually harassed them. Speaker Silver admitted to paying $103,000 in taxpayer money to the victims in order to curtail a potential lawsuit.
"As Democrats, we are proud to say that we support fair treatment for women in the workplace. In the case of Assemblyman Lopez, political expediency overruled simple fairness to female employees of the Legislature. We have seen repeated examples of inappropriate response to deeply troubling charges. I respect Speaker Silver's accomplishments, however in good conscience, I cannot support him. When the Assembly Majority caucuses to choose a leader for the 2013 session, I will not support Mr. Silver's re-election as Speaker," said Commisso Jr.
In 2001 and 2003 separate complaints were made by two women alleging that Speaker Sheldon Silver's then-Chief Counsel, J. Michael Boxley, had sexually assaulted them. In 2004, one of the women commenced a civil suit against the Speaker and the Assembly alleging that the "Assembly and Silver failed to exercise reasonable care to prevent Boxley from assaulting and sexually harassing employees."
Mr. Boxley was arrested and pleaded guilty to sexual misconduct. Mr. Silver and the Assembly leadership authorized the payment of a $500,000 settlement to one of the victims. The settlement was based partly on the victim's complaint that Speaker Silver tolerated a culture of sexual harassment in the Assembly. Shortly thereafter the Assembly adopted an amendment to the Rules of the Assembly (Powers and Duties of Speaker) directing the Speaker to promulgate a non-fraternization policy to protect interns from sexual harassment from Assembly Members and staff. This policy was intended to complement the Speaker's sexual harassment policy.
Mr. Silver's recent acknowledgment that he was again mistaken in the Vito Lopez sexual harassment incidents shows a disturbing disregard for the rights of female employees and the public trust. Mr. Silver not only failed to refer sexual harassment claims by multiple female employees to the Assembly Ethics Commission for a thorough investigation, he also included a confidential agreement in the settlement documents in order to conceal a taxpayer-funded settlement payment of $103,000 to two victims.
"This has been a stain on the State Legislature and Speaker Silver's direct involvement would cause any responsible Assembly member or candidate to question whether or not he should continue in his leadership role as Speaker," Commisso Jr. said. "Contrary to the spirit of the Assembly's own policies, Speaker Silver's regrettable actions clearly indicate a lack of sensitivity to the victimization of a number of women employed by the Assembly. That is why in 2013 I will not support Sheldon Silver for another term as Assembly Speaker."
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Village Voice's biggest stories.