Powerful Brooklyn Assemblyman Vito Lopez has been censured by the Assembly Ethics Committee and forced to resign his post as Housing Committee chair, amid accusations of sexual harassment from two members of his staff.
“The bi-partisan Committee on Ethics and Guidance today delivered to me a report signed by all eight of its members finding that Assemblymember Vito Lopez violated the Assembly’s sexual harassment policy,” Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver wrote in a release sent out early Friday afternoon.
The Ethics committee found that “Lopez created a hostile workplace which included both verbal and physical sexual abuse and determined that his response was not credible,” the release read.
The committee’s recommendations for punishment included removing Lopez as Housing Committee chairman and banning him from any other leadership positions.
The recommendations, which Silver said he would implement, also call for “reducing Lopez’s staff allocation through attrition to the amount reserved for a first-term member and forfeiting his seniority in the Assembly,” as well as prohibiting Lopez from hiring staffers or interns less than 21 years old.
Lopez, first elected in the 1980s, is one of the most powerful lawmakers in Albany and is also the head of the Brooklyn Democratic party. He runs a multi-million dollar nonprofit housing corporation called the Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens’ Council, which has come under scrutiny in the past several years for possible financial improprieties.
The Assembly responded quickly to the harassment allegations, which stemmed from incidents that took place in June and July of this year.
Silver has become increasingly sensitive to issues of sexual harassment in the Assembly over the past decade, after taking criticism for his handling of a 2001 incident in which an Assembly staffer claimed she was sexually assaulted by Silver’s former Chief of Staff J. Michael Boxley. In 2003, after Boxley was again accused of assault, he resigned. In 2008, former Buffalo-area Assemblyman Sam Hoyt was investigated after it was revealed he had a romantic relationship with one of his interns.
A spokesman for the Assembly press office said he was not aware of criminal charges being filed against Assemblyman Lopez, but said the complainants are being represented by their own counsel.
Assembly candidate Walter Mosley said the Democratic committee leaders were planning to meet to discuss the situation.
“These are serious allegations that have serious consequences,” Mosley said.
“It is my understanding that there will be a meeting in short order with the district leaders to discuss the appropriate next steps. I will be participating in this meeting and will hold off on making any public comments until that time.”
As word of the rebuke spread through political circles, there were several calls for Lopez’s resignation, both from his post as chair of the Kings County Democratic party and from his elected position.
Among elected officials calling for Lopez’s resignation were City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and Rep. Jerry Nadler. Nadler issued a statement saying “In light of the reprehensible conduct revealed by the Ethics Committee, I call upon Assembly Lopez to do the only honorable thing by immediately resigning his positions as a Member of the Assembly and as the County Chair of the Brooklyn Democratic Party.”
Other calls for Lopez’s resignation came from New Kings Democrats president Alex Low and Brooklyn District Leader Lincoln Restler, who is currently locked in a fierce re-election battle against a Vito-backed opponent and .
“After 22 years in Albany, very little shocks me anymore,” said Assemblywoman Deborah Glick. “This was surprising because it wasn’t the first thing I’d have thought of [about Vito Lopez], but the fact that men behave badly? That’s kind of endemic and not just to Albany,” Glick said.
“Anybody who’s in a working situation, women who are in working situations, have to deal with this,” she said.
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