Last night, the NY Times reported a top lawyer for the Democratic Assembly was stepping down because "Assembly staff failed to investigate sexual harassment claims involving another Assembly Democrat." Specifically, the lawyer, Bill Collins, who runs the legal staff (for Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, since he's the head of the majority), never did anything about allegations that Assemblyman Micah Kellner was harassing a young staffer.
The staffer complained to a supervisor, who then went to Collins. Here are the gross details from the Times:
The senior Kellner aide presented Mr. Collins with 15 pages of Internet chat transcripts, in which Mr. Kellner made suggestive remarks to the junior staff member, a woman in her early 20s who was new to the job.
Mr. Kellner encouraged the woman to play Scrabble with him on Facebook while conversing through the Google Talk Internet messaging service. In one exchange that took place well after midnight, Mr. Kellner told the woman that he had hired her because “you were cute during the interview.” He asked if she had a boyfriend and told her, “I guess secretly I didn’t want you to have one,” adding, “I like being the only man in your life” and “Don’t cheat on me.”
“I wouldn’t mind falling asleep with you but not remotely,” he wrote. “Did I offend?”
The report appears to have stopped at Mr. Collins’s desk. The Assembly’s staff never began a formal inquiry, and the matter was not referred to the Assembly’s ethics committee, in keeping with a longstanding practice in the chamber of shielding members from embarrassment.
Silver and the Assembly have been criticized for enabling a culture of members preying upon young staffers, most disgustingly Vito Lopez, who allegedly pawed woman and made them touch his tumors. Interestingly, Kellner spoke out against Lopez earlier this year.
Kellner, 34, told a reporter today that it was youthful indiscretion, "You know, this occurred over four years ago. It was while I was single. It occurred over a few weeks. It was inappropriate. It was stupid. And I was wrong for doing it. And when the staffer told me that she felt that it was unprofessional, I immediately stopped and regretted putting in her in that position. I was sorry then and I’m sorry now." He also claims he had no idea the complaint was made to the Speaker's office.
The Republican State Committee told the Times-Union, “Sheldon Silver is directly responsible for the culture of coverups regarding sexual harassment and abuse that has permeated the State Assembly dating back to the mid-1990s. If Silver believes that Collins’ behavior warrants a resignation, what does he believe his own behavior warrants? How many more women victims need to come forward before Governor Cuomo takes meaningful action to appoint a special prosecutor to flush out rampant corruption in Albany?"
Silver's office said, "Speaker Silver was not informed by Bill Collins about this matter at the time and he feels the matter should have been handled differently... The speaker has had a conversation with Mr. Collins and he will be leaving the Assembly’s employ."
Kellner is running for a City Council seat on the Upper East Side (Jessica Lappin's). His Democratic opponent, Ben Kallos, said, "Zero tolerance is what it is for the law, and that's what it should be for all of us," and was just endorsed by NOW-NYC.