Albany’s latest sexual misconduct scandal is threatening a delicate balance of power in the state Senate, and a few political rivals are already trying to capitalize on the allegation.
State Sen. Jeff Klein, the leader of the Independent Democratic Conference, a group of eight breakaway Democrats that shares power with the Republicans, has been accused of forcibly kissing a former staffer in 2015. His primary challengers are taking this opportunity to speak out against him, and on behalf of women who say they have been victims of sexual harassment.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state Senate Democrats have shied away from taking on IDC members outright for fear of upsetting negotiations to reunite the caucus with its mainline counterpart, and have declined to back primary challengers so far in 2018. However, the recent allegation against Klein may embolden anti-IDC progressive groups, and the candidates who wish to take him down.
On Wednesday, HuffPost published the account of the former staffer, Erica Vladimer, detailing her allegations. In a conference call with reporters shortly before the piece was released, Klein denied the allegations, and said that he will not step down as leader of the IDC.
Klein has two primary challengers so far. Lewis Kaminski, a lawyer who previously worked as legislative counsel to Rep. Eliot Engel, filed to form a campaign committee in November. Alessandra Biaggi, a former counsel for Cuomo and deputy national operations director for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, formed a campaign committee on Jan. 3.
Biaggi and Kaminski released statements on Twitter condemning Klein and demanding accountability:
Yesterday, Senator Klein was accused of sexual misconduct.— Alessandra Biaggi (@Biaggi4NY) January 11, 2018
The blanket defense from Klein's senate allies demands a strong response. Times have changed. Powerful men who abuse their position by victimizing the powerless are no longer tolerated.
We need to believe women who speak up about sexual abuse.— Alessandra Biaggi (@Biaggi4NY) January 11, 2018
Behavior like this is completely unacceptable in any environment, let alone New York State government, and dismissing women who are brave enough to break their silence is its own act of abuse.
The women of New York deserve better. We all deserve better.— Alessandra Biaggi (@Biaggi4NY) January 11, 2018
Today, voters in New York have one more reason to decide that Jeff Klein's time is up.
A third candidate, Carl Lundgren, is running against Klein as a Green Party candidate. Lundgren did not return requests for comment.
IDC members swiftly came to their leader’s defense with a joint statement released on Thursday, but both Cuomo and Senate Democratic Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins have called for an independent, immediate investigation into the allegations. Republican Majority Leader John Flanagan said in a statement that, at least without a formal complaint being filed, the allegations would not be under the Senate’s jurisdiction.
In her first public statement since the article was published, Vladimer said in a Facebook post that “legislation geared towards supporting and protecting victims is needed; laws protecting staff from becoming victims are necessary. But legislation and rules can only go so far. It’s time to hold our elected officials accountable. I am willing to risk everything to help that happen.”