Isn’t there an old saying about how it’s seldom the crime but “always the coverup” that lands politicians in the hottest of water?
Well, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver may want to revisit that adage, because it’s his “coverup” of sexual harassment allegations against his old pal/current Assemblyman Vito Lopez that has women’s groups even more livid than they are about Lopez repeatedly perving out on young, female staffers.
What makes it infinitely worse for the speaker is that the ladies have brought in the big guns and enlisted the help of Los Angeles loudmouth Gloria Allred, who is representing two of the alleged victims.
The problem for Silver is this: a while back, Lopez was accused of sexually harassing two women. Rather than referring the case to the Assembly Ethics Committee (or police), Silver authorized a settlement that included $130,000 in taxpayer money to essentially sweep the allegations under the rug.
The story probably would have remained under the rug if Lopez wasn’t a dirty old man. But he is — just months after costing taxpayer more than $100,000, he was accused of sexually harassing two more women.
Adding to Silver’s dilemma is his handling of past allegations of sexual misconduct, including those against his former chief counsel J. Michael Boxley.
In 2001, a young female staffer accused 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, 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 — while claiming the Assembly’s current system for reporting sexual harassment cases is flawed — said yesterday that he was “precluded” from reporting the initial claims against Lopez to the Ethics Committee because of a confidentiality agreement in the settlement.
Allred disagrees, and has issued the following statement:
We disagree with Speaker Silver’s statement that the Legislature is
“precluded” from referring complaints to the Assembly’s Ethics committee
whenever an employee also seeks some form of a private resolution of
claims against an alleged harasser. Neither the law nor ethical
requirements preclude such a referral.
The state legislature is not above the law which requires that
all complaints of sexual harassment and sex discrimination be fully and
promptly investigated and that appropriate remedial action be taken if
sexual harassment or discrimination has occurred.
The state legislature, and all other employers, have a duty not
only to protect past victims of sexual harassment, but also to ensure
that discrimination and harassment come to an end for current employees.
Entering into discussions with lawyers for an alleged victim or
victims is not a substitute for an investigation, particularly since the
state legislature, unlike private attorneys representing an individual
or individuals, would be aware of prior complaints and/or other unlawful
conduct by the same alleged harasser. Because the legislature is in a
unique position to have knowledge of prior allegations of past sexual
misconduct by a legislator, the legislature should understand that it
has a heightened ethical and legal duty to immediately conduct a fair
and impartial investigation in order to ensure that all employees of
elected officials are safe, rather than victimized.
Mr. Silver has to shift his priorities. The legislators are
elected officials. Their job is not to sexually harass women. If they
do, there should be no corner in which they can hide. The state
legislature should do everything possible to bring current and past
allegations of this nature to light.
Also jumping on Silver (no pun intended) is the National Organization for Women, which issued a statement of their own:
Assemblyman Vito Lopez’s reported acts of sexual harassment against
numerous employees make him entirely unfit to serve the public in any
capacity. Just as disturbing is Speaker Silver’s cover-up of Lopez’s
earlier transgressions, which demonstrate an ongoing acceptance and
tolerance for sexual harassment. It is absolutely unacceptable that in
the hallowed halls of government, women demanding the fair and equal
treatment to which they are entitled under the law should be met with
secrecy and muzzled. JCOPE must investigate the full extent to which
members of the Assembly staff, and of Mr. Lopez’s former and current
staff, were aware of his conduct, and the Speaker’s role in burying
these egregious charges. We will not allow the New York State Assembly
to disregard women’s rights.”
Susan Lerner, Executive Director of Common Cause/NY said:
“Sexual harassment is illegal and revelations that it was handled
secretly to protect a powerful member of the Legislature in 2012 in
Albany are shocking. In a democracy, government must be held accountable
to protect all of the state’s residents. Yet only in the last week has
the Assembly acted to protect its female employees based on the
information provided by the very brave women who, refusing to accept
Vito Lopez’s sexual misconduct, reported it to the relevant authorities.
JCOPE must investigate the extent of Lopez’s misconduct, every thwarted
attempt to report it, and the failure of process which resulted in that
conduct being hidden, tacitly accepted, and allowed to continue. Voters
require a public airing of the facts. JCOPE is the appropriate entity
to investigate, inform the public of what actually happened and hold the
responsible individuals and entities accountable.”
NOW says the “Good Government watchdog” Citizens Union is also sending a letter calling on JCOPE to investigate both Silver and Lopez.
Again, it’s always the coverup.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on August 29, 2012