As calls intensify for Assemblyman Vito Lopez to resign after allegations of sexual assault, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is now facing a state-issued probe at the behest of Governor Cuomo for approving the secret, $103,080, taxpayer-funded settlement to one of Lopez's accusers. "I now believe it was wrong," Silver said in a statement, referring to the lack of transparency in his decision. "I take full responsibility in not insisting that all cases go to the ethics committee."
Mayor Bloomberg, at a press conference earlier today, agreed: "The Speaker said clearly that he thought he should have handled it differently...I think he's probably right in that." A spokesman for Silver told the Times that Lopez's settlement is the only one his officer is aware of. "We scoured our records and this is the only settlement request from the Assembly." Silver's statement points out that his initial decision was "both legally correct and ethical and can result in a resolution sought by complaining employees."
Yet despite the apparent legality of the payment, no one is sure where the money came from. “My first reaction was, ‘Really? We can do that?’ ” Liz Krueger, a Manhattan Democratic Senator told the paper. “I had never even heard of a mechanism for a secret private payout in a case." The payment is not even the full amount of the settlement: Lopez also used his own funds (it's not know whether they were from his campaign or personal accounts) to pay one of the plaintiffs' attorneys.
Kevin Mintzer, an attorney representing the two Assembly employees who made the accusations against Lopez, called for the Assemblyman's resignation: “Mr. Lopez’s partial resignation is wholly insufficient. The notion that Mr. Lopez will continue to be in a position to sexually harass other Assembly employees is intolerable.”
In spurring the investigation by the state ethics committee, Governor Cuomo agreed that Lopez should quit if the probe proves that Lopez groped female employees: "If the facts are true about Mr. Lopez and the incidents of harassment, I think he should resign. That’s my opinion, but let’s get the facts."
Today, Common Cause/NY and the National Organization for Women filed a joint complaint with the Joint Commission on Public Ethics asking the commission to investigate Lopez. "Assemblyman Vito Lopez's reported acts of sexual harassment against numerous employees make him entirely unfit to serve the public in any capacity, "the president of NOW NYC, Sonia Ossorio, said in a statement. "Just as disturbing is Speaker Silver's cover-up of Lopez's earlier transgressions, which demonstrate an ongoing acceptance and tolerance for sexual harassment."
Ossorio added, "We will not allow the New York State Assembly to disregard women's rights."