Once-powerful Brooklyn Assemblyman Vito Lopez has agreed to step down from his longtime post as his support collapsed this week on the heels of the Staten Island District Attorney’s damning report which disclosed the unethical lengths that the legislature’s leadership went in trying to hush-up his sexual harassment of staffers.
It is yet another embarrassing turn-of-events in a year that has seen a half-dozen state legislators indicted on a range of corruption charges.
Insisting on his innocence, Lopez said today he would step down at the end of the legislative session, June 20. Lopez claimed he was just pursing a plan to step down at the end of his most recent term in office to run for City Council.
But the announcement came soon after Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said he would seek Lopez’s ouster. Silver was facing major push-back following State Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan’s report which concluded that the matter was never referred to the ethics committee as it should have been.
“It must be emphasized that the manner in which these entities dealt with the allegations fell short of what the public has the right to expect.”
The investigation, Donovan said, “revealed that during the mediation and negotiation of a settlement, the chief concern of those in the Assembly was mitigating the Assembly’s damages. That goal outweighed any interest in investigating or disciplining Assembly Member Lopez or in preventing similar occurrences in the future.”
The report also said that the legislature was wrong in using state funds to settle the sex harrass claims, and trying to keep them quiet and prevent the public and the media from learning about them.
“The classification of a legal settlement on behalf of an elected official should never be confidential or generically classified as one for ‘legal services,'” as it was in this case, the report said.