New York Speaker Sheldon Silver (D) admitted fault Tuesday for approving a secret payment to settle undisclosed sexual harassment claims against embattled Brooklyn Democrat Assemblyman Vito Lopez, the New York Times reports.
Lopez was censured late last week, stripped of his committee posts, and barred from employing young adults after an ethic investigation into two instances of sexual harassment.
Silver authorized a $103,080 payment in June to settle two additional sexual harassment claims that had not been disclosed to the ethics committee, according to the Times:
Even as Assemblyman Vito J. Lopez, the man at the center of the scandal, agreed to give up his power base as chairman of the Democratic Party in Brooklyn, it was Mr. Silver’s decision to make the payment and keep the allegations against Mr. Lopez secret that drew the most outrage. Public advocacy and women’s groups, and even some Democratic lawmakers, expressed shock that the state would pay so much without public disclosure. Governor Cuomo — who had previously called for Mr. Lopez’s resignation over a separate set of allegations — became the most prominent voice calling for an ethics investigation as well.
The growing scandal led Mr. Silver to say that he had been wrong to approve the settlement. He said that he had previously endorsed the view of his counsel’s office that if an employee bringing a harassment claim requested confidential mediation, then the Assembly would accede to that request and not refer the claim to the Assembly’s bipartisan ethics committee.
"I take full responsibility in not insisting that all cases go to the ethics committee," he said in a statement. "While that opinion is both legally correct and ethical and can result in a resolution sought by complaining employees, I now believe it was the wrong one from the perspective of transparency."