By THE EDITORIAL BOARD, NY TIMES
The sordid details of how a once-powerful Brooklyn politician pawed, groped and taunted young women on his staff are more than an indictment of one politician, Assemblyman Vito Lopez. They provide a galling picture of the way Sheldon Silver, the Assembly speaker and one of New York’s top legislative leaders, failed to provide an environment in which young women could work without fear of being sexually assaulted by a bully like Mr. Lopez.
The degrading abuse of at least eight women, as outlined in a harrowing ethics report released on Wednesday, should enrage members of the Assembly enough to expel Mr. Lopez from public office immediately, not wait for his promised resignation in June. Assembly Democrats should also seize the opportunity to remove Mr. Silver from a leadership post he has occupied since 1994 and is clearly no longer fit to hold. It should not be beyond their capacities to find an honorable leader who cares more about the public than about Albany’s seedy status quo.
We know that Democratic Assembly members are scared witless by the thought of challenging Mr. Silver. After a challenger failed in 2000, Mr. Silver made certain that the rival and his followers also lost power, money and office space. But the Lopez case demands a response, even from timid Democrats. It demonstrates not only Mr. Silver’s customary imperiousness but a long-standing moral blindness to the way powerful men around him intimidate and sexually harass young women working in the Capitol.
In 2006, after two women had accused one of Mr. Silver’s staff members of sexual assault, Mr. Silver and the Assembly leadership authorized a $500,000 payment to settle a lawsuit accusing the speaker of tolerating a culture of sexual harassment. The aide later pleaded guilty.
Since then, Mr. Silver has toughened the sexual harassment policy considerably. But the report this week from the state’s Joint Commission on Public Ethics and a more limited investigation by the Staten Island district attorney, Daniel Donovan Jr., show the same kind of protective instincts at play. After two of the women made their accusations about Mr. Lopez, Mr. Silver agreed to a confidential payment of $100,000 in taxpayer funds — an act he now says he regrets.
When word of the deal leaked out, Mr. Silver’s staff said everything had been kept confidential to protect the women’s privacy. The real reason, the report says, was to keep the women quiet and protect the institution. After the Assembly moved the women to other jobs, Mr. Lopez found two new attractive young women to replace them. Those women then filed complaints a few months later, charging that Mr. Lopez had ordered them to wear no bras and shorter skirts and pressured them to go on trips, even asking “one bed — yes or no?” He threatened to demote one of them if she resisted.
What is truly infuriating is that Mr. Silver certainly knew of Mr. Lopez’s abuse of women when the settlement was paid and should have demanded his resignation at that time. It was not until the second wave of complaints last July that Mr. Silver’s staff did the right thing and forwarded them to the Assembly’s ethics committee. Mr. Lopez was eventually censured and stripped of his committee chairmanship, perks and staff.
Given the latest report, that is not good enough. Mr. Lopez should be expelled from the Assembly now. And Mr. Silver — whose colleagues made last-minute efforts to redact critical details from the report — should be replaced as speaker. Enough.
New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver Assisted Vito Lopez In A Coverup By Giving Victims $103G Public Funds As Hush Money