Skip to primary navigation Skip to main content

Silver to Kearns: Don't let the door hit you

By Tom Precious

ALBANY -- The response by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver to the news that Buffalo Assemblyman Michael Kearns is quitting the Democratic conference in protest because Silver will not resign over his handling of the Vito Lopez matter has gone up a notch from this afternoon's initial "not surprising'' reaction.

Tonight comes this from Michael Whyland, Silver's spokesman: "Two members left the Democratic conference today, Vito Lopez and Mickey Kearns. One was a closet harasser, one a closet Republican. Neither one will be missed.''

##

Silver to push new system for handling allegations of wrongdoing

By Tom Precious

ALBANY – The Assembly will investigate moving to a new policy to have sexual harassment and other complaints against lawmakers handled by an outside, private investigator and not through internal channels, according to a Democratic Buffalo lawmaker.

Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes said she believes the new system will be recommended later this afternoon by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver in the wake of how he and his top staff secretly handled sexual harassment claims against former Assemblyman Vito Lopez. She said a task force that Silver appointed her to three weeks ago has already been looking into the idea.

Peoples-Stokes said officials are also examining a new policy to require mandatory reporting of suspected abuse cases.

"If my staff saw me doing something wrong, they'd be required to report it,'' she said of the policy being drafted.

The lawmaker joined other Democrats emerging from a closed-door session with Silver this afternoon giving the longtime Assembly leader a vote of confidence. Silver, she said, recognized he mishandled the Lopez case.

"And he apologized for it. A lot of people when they make mistakes are not going to apologize for it,'' she said.

She said a leadership change this late in the session would create "total chaos.''

Cuomo: Silver should stay as Speaker

By Tom Precious

ALBANY – When Andrew Cuomo in late 2010 was preparing to take office as governor, one of the questions swirling about Albany at the time was this: When will he try to take out Sheldon Silver as Assembly speaker?

The theory, of course, was that Silver and Cuomo did not get along and would never get along.

But in the past week, Cuomo has been the state’s top government official to beat back calls that Silver should resign following revelations of how he secretly handled sexual harassment accusations brought by female employees of now-former Assemblyman Vito Lopez.

"People say the speaker should resign. … I said, I don’t," Cuomo told reporters today. Cuomo repeated what Silver himself has said, which is that the Assembly leader made mistakes in how he handled the Lopez episode last year. And Cuomo said, again, how governors do not have a direct say in Assembly leadership decisions.

"The Assembly will decide who is the leader of the Assembly. They vote. I don’t vote," Cuomo said.

Cuomo's defense of Silver shows how the relationship between the two men has evolved over the years. Moreover, it shows a basic understanding by Cuomo that a leadership battle at this point in the waning weeks of the 2013 legislative session could result in a political bloodbath in the Assembly. Such a battle  would all but halt work on any number of initiatives Cuomo is trying to resolve before the June 20 scheduled session end date. 

Vito officially gone, Silver working to keep job

By Tom Precious

Albany -- Vito Lopez is no longer a member of the Assembly as of 9 am today. He resigned over the weekend rather than face an expulsion vote by colleagues over allegations he sexually harassed numerous female members of his staff.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, facing calls for his ouster over his handling of the Lopez affair, meets behind closed doors later this afternoon with his fellow Democrats for the first time since two reports were issued last week by a special prosecutor and a state ethics agency. While pressure is coming from outside forces to get Silver to quit as leader, he appears, for now, to have the support of his conference, including female legislators who say Silver already apologized for his handling of complaints brought last year by female staffers against Lopez.

Here is a photo of the desk of the once mighty Lopez, who was also Brooklyn Democratic Party chairman, taken in the Assembly chamber taken at 9am. Apparently no rush to get his name off what was his assigned seat.

 

Lopez

Friday's must-reads from Washington

By Jerry Zremski

So the Republicans see the recent D.C. scandals as a political gift -- and the New York Times questions what they will do with it.

And Newt Gingrich tells NPR that the GOP may go too far in trying to exploit the scandals.

Meanwhile, the Times' Nate Silver asks whether presidents really face a second-term curse.

Video: Does Tolbert stand chance of toppling Byron Brown?

Bernard Tolbert's bid to unseat Mayor Brown could be viewed as a David vs. Goliath undertaking. But News Political Reporter Bob McCarthy tells Brian Meyer that Tolbert is a credible candidate with an ability to raise money and highlight key issues:

Thursday's must-reads from Washington

By Jerry Zremski

WASHINGTON -- Today the Washington Post goes deep inside what tea party groups went through to get their tax exemptions.

Meanwhile, The New York Times discusses the impact the recent IRS scandals will have on President Obama's second term.

And the Times also delves deep into the troubling issue of military suicides.

Cuomo casino deal at hand with Central New York tribe?

By Tom Precious

ALBANY -- A week after Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo threatened to place commercial casinos in the backyards of gambling ventures now run by Native American tribes, a Central New York Indian tribe is expected this afternoon to agree to a deal with the governor to keep any new casinos out of their geographic territory.

The Oneida Indian Nation, which since 1993 has enjoyed the benefits of a lucrative casino deal with the state in which it does not have to share slot machine revenues with Albany, is expected to sign a new agreement to start making revenue-sharing payments in return for Cuomo blocking off a large Central New York area from his plans to expand casinos in New York.

The looming deal, which sources say could be announced within the hour at the Capitol, would put pressure on the Seneca Nation of Indians to make their own agreement with Cuomo to end a $600 million stalemate raging for several years over stalled payments by the tribe to Albany. In its deal with the former Pataki administration a decade ago, the Seneca Nation agreed to pay 25 percent of slot revenues to the state in return for gambling exclusivity rights in a large area of Western New York.

The Senecas several years ago stopped making the payments, saying the state breached the compact by, in part, allowing new forms of gambling devices at racetrack-based casinos in the region. The governor last week said he wants to permit three casinos in upstate New York in six different regions. If three tribes agreed to broker new deals with the state, Cuomo pledged to prevent any new commercial casinos from locating within their regions. For the Senecas, that would be a huge area from Route 14 east of Rochester to Lake Ontario to Pennsylvania to the western border of the state.

A Cuomo spokesman declined comment and an Oneida Indian tribe spokesman did not return calls for comment.

 

 

 

 

Lopez defends himself, lashes out at others

By Tom Precious

ALBANY -- Here is the statement from Assemblyman Vito Lopez on today's events: 

"In July 2012, the New York State Assembly Standing Committee on Ethics and Guidance was tasked with looking into a complaint made by two Assembly employees who worked for Assemblyman Vito Lopez. Ultimately, that Committee looked not only at the claims of those two employees, but also looked into claims made by two other former employees who had received a monetary settlement from the Assembly and Assemblyman Lopez several months earlier.

The Assembly Standing Committee denied Mr. Lopez any opportunity to question the evidence or the witnesses. Having deprived him of this fundamental right, the Standing Committee recommended that Mr. Lopez be disciplined. In response, the Speaker censured Mr. Lopez with harsh penalties: Mr. Lopez was stripped of his chairmanship of the Assembly Housing Committee, his seniority was taken from him, which had the impact of reducing his compensation and staff, and corresponding benefits of office were rescinded. Those were the penalties deemed appropriate for all of the conduct alleged by all four of the complainants.

Yet, despite an onslaught of negative press attention, Mr. Lopez was returned to the Assembly in November 2012 by the vote of the overwhelming majority of voters in his district. Thereafter, a complaint was made to JCOPE, the Joint Commission on Public Ethics. JCOPE was supposed to be looking into whether Mr. Lopez improperly influenced the Assembly to settle the first complaints and also whether the Speaker improperly authorized the settlement. JCOPE found that there was no impropriety whatsoever with regard to those matters. It cleared Mr. Lopez of any claim that he sought to influence the Assembly to settle the claims and it cleared him entirely of any claim that he ever misused funds or other resources of the Assembly.

However, the JCOPE report also rehashes the same allegations for which Mr. Lopez has already been punished – claims which the voters in his district utterly rejected when they returned him to office in November to serve them in the Assembly. Unfortunately, the JCOPE report entirely omits any reference to the evidence and witnesses presented by Mr. Lopez. And once again Mr. Lopez was denied the chance to question the witnesses.

Despite this, the electorate has rejected the claims. They wish Mr. Lopez to represent them. Salacious and sensational claims in the JCOPE report are fallacious. These claims, including that he made sexual references to a 14 year old intern and “opined that statutory rape laws should not exist”, are simply not true. Should there ever come a time when Mr. Lopez is actually afforded the fundamental rights supposedly allowed everyone, the truth will finally be told. Furthermore, the holes in the claims made by these complainants are manifest. Each claim is contradicted by the complainant’s own words; by the testimony of other witnesses; and by common sense.

Among the many examples that show that complainants’ claims are unworthy of belief are these: One complainant, a former chief of staff, claims that she was denied the opportunity to travel to a conference because she refused to share a room with Mr. Lopez. Yet while he was at the conference, she sent him texts, including: “I hope you won big at the casino last night and that you had a great time. . . Next time I hope that it will be me with you and you can teach me blackjack, but you have to teach me all the tricks because I play to win”; and “I had my lucky chip in my pocket all day today so you could win big tonight”.

Among her other communications to him, all at a time when she now claims he was making inappropriate advances to her and she sought to keep the relationship strictly professional, include her telling Mr. Lopez, “I had a really good time with you tonight”; “I really enjoy hearing you laugh and smile”; “I miss you and I can’t wait until next Sunday”; “I can’t wait until this week is over so I can see you”; and “I really love waking up and going to work just to be able to see you”.

Another complainant, a former staff member, claims she agreed to accompany Mr. Lopez to Atlantic City “for fun”, despite his allegedly having made inappropriate advances. Yet the morning of the trip, she texted him: Good morning Vito! I'm looking forward to today! I have the lucky coin ready to go! And though she now says he tried to kiss her and place his hand between her legs on the ride home, she told him the following the day after the trip: Good morning Vito! I was just thinking what a nice night we had being high rollers! One day later, she sent the following: “I'm excited and love this job, I'm going to show you that”. And there were other texts thereafter, including “I'm excited and love this job” and “I love this job”.

One has to wonder what is going on here. Assemblyman Lopez has never sent an email and over the last five years averaged fewer than 10 text messages a year to his family, friends, and workers. The report overly weighs text messaging amongst staff without giving credibility to the provocative text messages sent to Mr. Lopez by the complainants. One should wonder why a full revelation of such text messages is not part of the overall report or factored into the relationships established between him and complainants. Mr. Lopez expected staff to maintain communication with him, (preferably by phone), and also placed priority on a positive work attitude.

More than 18 letters from former staff of Assemblyman Lopez attesting to the quality of work, office professionalism, and staff performance were submitted but not made reference to in the report. There is an all out war against an ailing senior member. One must wonder why the actions in this matter were addressed without due process. Mr. Lopez looks forward to a hearing where all the facts are openly discussed and reviewed. Assemblyman Lopez continues to maintain his innocence and understands the political agenda involved in the one-sided nature of the findings.''

##

Lopez reactions address -- and ignore -- key points

By Tom Precious

ALBANY -- Looking for some countering spins on today's Vito Lopez matter? You'll get the picture here:

 

Michael Whyland, spokesman for Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver:

“Speaker Sheldon Silver has stated that the actions that were taken represented a good-faith belief that the Assembly was acting in the interests of the victims, and that has not changed. A full review of the facts by both JCOPE and the Special Prosecutor has found that all actions by the Assembly were lawful and there was no basis for an ethics complaint against the Speaker or his staff.

However, as the Speaker stated in August, it was a mistake not to immediately refer the initial complaints to the Assembly Committee on Ethics and Guidance, one that will not be repeated. The Speaker is deeply committed to ensuring that all our employees are treated with respect and dignity. As to Assemblyman Lopez, sanctions have been imposed and the Speaker has called for him to step down from the Assembly. Given that the JCOPE investigation has found significant violations of the Public Officers Law by Assemblyman Lopez, Speaker Silver renews his call for him to resign.” 

New York Republican Party Chairman Ed Cox:

"Whether or not there were legal wrongdoings on the part of Assemblyman Lopez or Speaker Silver is irrelevant. Vito Lopez's actions were morally and ethically reprehensible and totally unforgivable. Sexual abuse is not a partisan issue. Every member of the New York State Assembly, especially its Speaker, should be held to the highest moral and ethical standards.

Once again, Speaker Silver has lowered the bar; in this case, he even violated his own Assembly regulations. By silencing earlier victims of sexual abuse, both at the hands of Michael Boxley and Vito Lopez, Speaker Silver is directly responsible for their subsequent victims. We repeat our call for Vito Lopez to resign from the State Assembly and for Sheldon Silver to resign the Speakership."


Damien LaVera, spokesman for Attorney General Eric Schneiderman:

“We appreciate the reports by JCOPE and District Attorney Donovan. As they make clear, the Office of the Attorney General was not asked to serve as counsel to the Assembly in this matter, nor was our office asked to approve the settlement agreement. Also as noted, consistent with longstanding policy that predates our administration, office lawyers provided a limited response to an informal inquiry, as well as a model settlement agreement that did not include a confidentiality clause. We have since revised internal office policies to make clear that even informal consultations are elevated when the circumstances merit it."


NOW-NYC President Sonia Ossorio:

“Vito Lopez subjected his female employees to breathtaking and horrifying sexual harassment for years on end. Although JCOPE only began its investigation into allegations dating back to 2010, given the flagrant conduct described in the report it would seem highly likely that Lopez is a repeat harasser whose crimes pre-date the scope of the inquiry. The shocking details of psychological and physical abuse are absolutely outrageous. There are incidents that cannot be described as mere harassment, in many cases the conduct is so physically intrusive any sane person would describe it as an attack.

The isolation and violation that Vito Lopez's victims suffered was further maximized by the Assembly's abject failure to follow its own sexual harassment procedures which require a referral to the Standing Committee on Ethics and Guidance once a complaint has been filed. It's clear that the Assembly leadership did everything in its power, not to engage a proper investigation and instead diverted the victims to a secret settlement to protect Mr. Lopez. In so doing, they allowed Mr. Lopez to harass successive employees while rendering his previous victims mute as their abuser continued to harass other women.

It's clear that neither the public interest, nor the interests of justice, were served. As is obvious, the Assembly engaged in a shameful cover-up at great expense to all women who live and work in New York State. This raises serious question about what other complaints the Assembly may have mishandled. Despite the fact that no criminality was found, Mr. Lopez is clearly unfit for office and the Assembly should take a no confidence vote immediately. Anyone who does not oppose Mr. Lopez's rumored political aspirations for City Council risks alienating all people who support safety and human dignity for women.’’

##

« Older Entries Newer Entries »
Advertisement

About Politics Now

Robert J. McCarthy

Robert J. McCarthy

A native of Schenectady, Robert J. McCarthy came to The Buffalo News in 1982 following a six-year stint at the Olean Times Herald. He is a graduate of St. Bonaventure University, and has been covering local, state and national politics since 1992.

rmccarthy@buffnews.com


Tom Precious

Tom Precious

Tom Precious joined The Buffalo News in 1997 as bureau chief at the state Capitol, where he covers everything from statewide politics and state government fiscal affairs to health care, environmental and municipal government matters. Prior to The News, he worked for news outlets in Albany and Washington, DC.

tprecious@buffnews.com


Jill Terreri

Jill Terreri

Jill Terreri is an Amherst native and has covered politics and government in upstate New York since 2003. She joined The Buffalo News in 2012 and covers City Hall.

@jillterreri | jterreri@buffnews.com


Jerry Zremski

Jerry Zremski

Jerry Zremski, The Buffalo News Washington bureau chief, has reported from the nation's capital since 1989 after joining The News as a business reporter in 1984. A graduate of Syracuse University, Zremski is a former Nieman fellow in journalism at Harvard University. In 2007, he served as president of the National Press Club.

@JerryZremski | jzremski@buffnews.com

Subscribe

Advertisement