To the Editor:
Assemblyman Harvey Weisenberg (D-Long Beach) must weigh in on the sexual harassment and cover-up scandal rocking the New York State Assembly at this time.
Long-time Assemblyman Vito Lopez, head of the Brooklyn Democrat Committee, was censured over accusations that he groped or sexually harassed multiple female staffers. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver authorized a secret $135,000 settlement with two women who had made claims against Lopez, two months before the Assembly censured Lopez for allegedly harassing two other women. Stunningly $103,000 of the settlement was from public taxpayer funds! A settlement agreement with the victims included a phrase that said even “the fact of this agreement” should remain secret, not just its terms and circumstances.
Silver acknowledged that he had made a mistake in agreeing to a secret settlement and in not referring the earlier claims to the Assembly’s ethics committee. While the State Attorney General criticized the Assembly’s handling of the matter and condemned such confidentiality provisions, in fact, the A.G. had consulted a number of times with assembly lawyers about the settlement agreement as it was developed, and even reviewed a draft agreement including the confidentiality clause. A special prosecutor to investigate Assemblyman Lopez in the wake of the sexual harassment scandal has been appointed.
Lopez’s actions were abhorrent to the dignity and respect of his female staffers. But “Vitogate” could turn out to be significant to the state’s political culture if it leads to the unraveling of Silver.
If Weisenberg claims to have such prestige and experience in the Assembly, he should address the issues affecting his Assembly colleagues: Lopez for his vulgar conduct and Silver for his shell game using taxpayer money to cover up a sex scandal.
Several years ago when Silver’s chief counsel J. Michael Boxley was charged with raping two women, Weisenberg never criticized Silver nor Boxley, but rather stated: “We’re not responsible what happens off campus.” With a new scandal affecting his Assembly colleagues now afoot, Weisenberg’s support of Silver and Lopez —tacit or otherwise — would stand in contrast to any claim he could make as an advocate for women’s issues and as a political independent. It is time for him to stop attempts to deflect responsibility for the Assembly’s misconduct.