The sexual harassment scandal slowly chipping away at the power of local political player Vito Lopez is spreading. Last week, the State Assembly censured Lopez for allegedly groping two female interns, stripping him of his seniority and forcing him to give up his role as Brooklyn Democratic Party chairman. But reporting by the New York Times revealed that an earlier allegation from two other women was made to disappear with a hushed settlement — $103,080 of which came quietly from taxpayers. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver now admits that, in an effort to keep things quiet, he made a boo-boo.
The Democratic speaker said he now believes the decision was "the wrong one from the perspective of transparency," and takes "full responsibility in not insisting that all cases go to the ethics committee." He even went so far as to lay out his mistakes: "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."
The Times reports that Andrew Cuomo, who called on Lopez to resign for the other accusations of inappropriate touching, is now asking for an ethics investigation into the Assembly's secret settlement. But the governor also noted, "This would not be the first harassment case that the state settled … It's the obligation of the state to settle the claims, if you can." Lopez, who continues to deny the charges, reportedly paid a chunk too, in addition the government money.
As if to portend how high-profile this mess would become, the secret settlement was negotiated at least in part by notorious attorney Gloria Allred, who insists she didn't demand secrecy. "We have never requested or insisted that a legislative committee or other body not proceed with an investigation," she said in a statement. "To the contrary, we believe that it is in the interest of good government and working women that there is full accountability and transparency about workplace sex harassment and that there should be full investigations of accusations of workplace harassment." Vito Lopez, for the record, still holds office.