New York City

Andy King’s checkered past

The New York City Councilman’s questionable ethics date back to at least 2013.

New York City Councilman Andy King.

New York City Councilman Andy King. Official NYC Council Photo by William Alatriste

New York City Councilman Andy King’s history of unethical alleged actions goes back further than those covered by the recent investigation that may result in his suspension from the Council. 

Known for his bow ties and colorful clothes, King is facing some serious penalties for alleged misdeeds, including harassing employees and misusing public funds. He faces a 30-day suspension, and both Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson called for his resignation. 

The recent recommendation of unusually stiff penalties – no other member of the Council has been suspended in recent memory – from the Committee on Standards and Ethics might make some wonder about King’s past. He was in the City Council for more than five years before these alleged actions occurred. So what was his career like before that? 

First elected in 2012, King could be said to be following in his predecessor’s footsteps. He won a special election that year to take over the Northeast Bronx seat from former City Councilman Larry Seabrook, who vacated the seat after being convicted on several counts of corruption for funneling public money to his friends, family and his girlfriend through nonprofits.

King had previously run in 2009 against Seabrook, before the former councilman was indicted in 2010. At the time, King worked as a community organizer for the healthcare workers union 1199SEIU, after having previously worked as a caseworker for DC37 Local 371, which represents employees of social service agencies. During that first campaign, the politically powerful 1199SEUI he worked for stayed neutral.

Despite losing in 2009, King won the crowded 2012 Democratic primary with 80% of the vote, and has since been reelected by large margins in 2013 and 2017. He will be term-limited in 2021.

The current allegations are not the first time that King has been the subject of scandal during his time in office. The first major ethical controversy came from his 2013 campaign, his first seeking a full four-year term since taking office. The city Campaign Finance Board in 2015 fined King for various violations, including using campaign funds for personal phone bills and paying his wife for an undisclosed reason. King sued the Campaign Finance Board in 2016, contending he did not have to pay the majority of the fines, that the payment to his wife was legitimate and that the phone bill was for a small home campaign office. The Campaign Finance Board later sued King in 2018 for failing to pay the fines, even after he asked for multiple extensions. The board had previously fined King’s 2009 and 2012 campaigns for other minor offenses that one staffer attributed to “sloppy bookkeeping.”

King is currently accused of similar abuses as those the Campaign Finance Board fined him for in 2015. Among the myriad allegations he faces, one involves using taxpayer dollars to pay for a retreat to the Virgin Islands and the wedding of his step-daughter. Another accuses him of allowing his wife, Neva Shillingford-King, an executive vice president with 1199SEIU, to direct office business and have an improper influence in hiring decisions. A spokesperson for the union did return a request for comment. According to the report from the City Council Standards and Ethics Committee, the investigation it conducted spanned as far back as 2015.

2015 was also the same year the first allegation about sexual harassment came out. A former Council staffer accused him of sexual harassment, and then retaliatiation after she first made a complaint. In that case, the allegations came in the form of filed notice of intent to sue the city, rather than through a City Council investigation, although the lawsuit was never actually filed. The staffer claimed that she was not the first person to receive unwanted attention from King and said that he created a “hostile work environment.” This would not be the last time King would face a sexual harassment scandal, another aspect of the charges he faces now.

King came under investigation by the Council Standards and Ethics Committee for the first time in 2017, for a new sexual harassment accusation. That investigation concluded with the Council voting for King to undergo sensitivity training in 2018. Although the current allegations against King do not include any new sexual harassment – a complaint initially had been made, but Ethics Committee Chairman Steven Matteo said the complainant stopped cooperating – the committee found he tried to interfere with the previous investigation and outed the woman who made the 2017 complaint. The committee also detailed King’s alleged attempts to derail the 2019 investigation by retaliating against staffers who cooperated.

King’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

In all, the Ethics Committee substantiated four charges against King, after it released preliminary findings in April. In addition to suspension, King also faces a recommended $15,000 fine, loss of his committee chairmanship and the appointment of a monitor in his office for the rest of his term if the full Council votes to approve the committee recommendations. 

“Bronxites deserves better from their elected officials,” state Sen. Gustavo Rivero said after Seabrook got convicted. Maybe in 2021 the borough will finally get a scandal-free Councilmember in that seat.