Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver did the unthinkable yesterday: he admitted he screwed up.
But that was only after reports surfaced that he signed off on a plan to secretly payoff alleged victims of his now-former pal Vito Lopez’s pervy-ness with $103,000 in taxpayer money.
Assemblyman Lopez, the now-former chairman of the Brooklyn Democratic Party, apparently has a nasty habit of sexually harassing female staffers. Earlier this year — rather than refer claims of Lopez’s pervy-ness by two women to the Assembly Ethics Committee (or police) — Silver agreed to the payout, thus ensuring the public never caught wind of the allegations.
Then, a few months later, Lopez was at it again; two more female staffer came forward, alleging that Lopez sexually harassed them, too, in June and July of this year — after he’d already been ordered to attend a sexual harassment workshop for the prior claims.
“I now believe it was the wrong one from the perspective of transparency,” Silver said in a statement yesterday, referring to the decision to keep the initial hush money quiet.
“I take full responsibility in not insisting that all cases go to the ethics committee.”
He went on to say that, “The Assembly (1) should not agree to a confidential settlement, (2) should insist that the basic factual allegations of any complaint be referred to the ethics committee for a full investigation and (3) should publicly announce the existence of any settlement, while protecting the identity of the victims.”
That sounds like a pretty good plan. But that didn’t happen — and Lopez’s pervy-ness continued, leaving at least two more victims in its wake.
The National Organization for Women is stunned by Silver’s inaction, but notes that it’s pretty much par for the course for the speaker, given his history when it comes to covering up for his friends when they get a little grabby with women.
“This is a bombshell,” Sonia Ossorio, president of the New York chapter of NOW, says. “Sheldon Silver is now in the hot seat with Lopez and he has a lot of explaining to do.”
Ossorio points out that Silver has a “dubious history” of responding to claims of sexual misconduct.
In 2003, one of his top aides, J. Michael Boxley, was accused of rape and later pleaded guilty to sexual misconduct. Silver has been criticized for his inaction in that case, too.
It seems pretty clear that Lopez should have been booted from office the first time he was accused of sexual misconduct with women. But he wasn’t — and he can probably thank Shelly Silver.
That said, it seems the speaker is on the hook for Lopez’s latest victims.
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