When the news broke last month that Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver used taxpayer dollars as hush money to settle sexual harassment claims brought against his colleague Assemblyman Vito Lopez, the speaker quickly lined up his members and a slew of political allies to defend him.
Many of them were happy to fall in line and obliged. Why wouldn’t they? Silver is one of the most powerful politicians in New York. And Albany being Albany, somewhere down the road they knew they would be handsomely rewarded with some plum appointment or lulu. So they dutifully went out and talked to the press. Some said he made a mistake, while others said he used poor judgment.
But perhaps they lined up too quickly and used some poor judgment of their own. And perhaps some of them made a mistake and forgot that Speaker Silver has done this sort of thing before.
Back in 2006 there was a lawsuit accusing Silver of failing to properly investigate another sexual misconduct charge. It was asserted that in 2001 the speaker did not investigate a complaint of sexual assault against his chief counsel, Michael Boxley. Then in 2003, not surprisingly given the nature of sexual predators, Boxley was taken away in handcuffs on a rape charge. He later pleaded out to a sexual assault charge to avoid jail time.
The suit never went to trial because, under Speaker Silver’s leadership, the Assembly agreed to pay $500,000 in taxpayer money to settle the case. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
Fast-forward. In 2012 Speaker Sheldon Silver secretly used $103,080 in taxpayer money to pay off/settle with (potato-potahto) two women who accused Lopez of sexual harassment. Of course this payoff only came to light because—you guessed it—he did it again! On Aug. 24, the bipartisan Committee on Ethics and Guidance found that Lopez was guilty of violating the Assembly’s sexual harassment policy.
Silver’s actions epitomize why the public is so disgusted with the Legislature and encapsulate what they believe is fundamentally wrong with Albany.
What this whole affair boils down to is a man of substantial power and influence abusing the public’s trust once by trying to protect his aide and then repeating this odious conduct by trying to orchestrate another cover-up to protect one of his key political allies.
So how should we proceed now? How must we finally right these wrongs—so long swept under the rug no matter how many women were hurt by their concealment?
Of course, Silver can save all of us a lot of time and simply resign. But if he doesn’t, and if he calls his conference back for a pay-raise vote, hopefully his colleagues will do the right thing and vote him out. After all, who in their right mind would support any elected official who has put so many women in harm’s way?
Until that day—unlikely as it may seem—every Assembly candidate, incumbent and challenger, must tell their communities and newspapers whether they plan to support Sheldon Silver for speaker, and the state’s editorial boards must demand the candidates’ stances if they refuse to go on the record on this matter of such critical importance to the future of our government.
We the public have a right to know if the people running to represent us are on our side—or on their own. We will never bring an end to the dysfunction in Albany as long as we keep insisting on making the same mistakes and never demanding accountability.
Susan Del Percio is a New York-based Republican consultant and founder of Susan Del Percio Strategies, a full-service strategic communications firm.