This Week in Politics: Lopez Sexual Harassment Scandal Ensnares Top State Dems
Saturday, September 01, 2012
On This Week in Politics, WNYC political reporters run down some of the top political stories from the week that was, providing insight and analysis on local, state and national political issues that touch the region.
On August 24, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver's office announced it was stripping powerful Brooklyn Assemblyman Vito Lopez of his seniority and leadership positions after an Assembly ethics committee found allegations of sexual harassment against Lopez credible. By Monday, serious doubt was raised about Lopez's ability to keep both his legislative seat and his Democratic county chairmanship after details leaked over the weekend of an earlier harassment claim that Silver's office had settled with a $103,000 payment.
Controversy continued to swirl around embattled Assemblyman Lopez, and soon enveloped the Assembly’s top Democrat. By Tuesday, as Lopez announced he would not seek re-election as the head of the Brooklyn Democratic Party, questions were raised over how a six-figure payout from Speaker Silver was made to settle a previous harassment charge against Lopez — a decision Silver said late Tuesday was “wrong.”
More women came coming forward to detail what they say was a hostile work environment in Lopez's office. Five women who used to work for the powerful Brooklyn Democratic told The New York Times that they felt sexual pressure and were subjected to unwanted advances, requests for provocative dress, such as short skirts and high heels, and feared of reprisals if they complained when working for Lopez.
The role the offices of Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli played in a settlement payout became the focus of attention as fall out continued from Assemblyman Vito Lopez sexual harassment scandal. In June, Speaker Silver approved a $103,080 settlement to two women who claimed Lopez sexually harassed them. Both Schneiderman and DiNapoli's office had a hand in approving the payout to two former female staffers of Lopez.
As the sexual harassment scandal surrounding Lopez continues to grow, there has been little public discussion coming from the Assembly itself, especially its female members. There are more than thirty female members of the New York State Assembly. The vast majority of them are Democrats, and they come from every corner of the state. Go through the list of Assemblywoman and you’ll find numerous legislative efforts to defend and assist women. Yet they have, by and large, joined their male colleagues in declining to speak critically of Speaker Silver.