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Time for Silver to leave speaker’s chair

September 8, 2012
Editorial by the Adirondack Daily Enterprise: Publisher Catherine Moore, Managing Editor Peter Crowley

We'll leave the investigation to the special prosecutor and ethics commission in Albany and cut to the ending: If any of the numerous sexual harassment accusations against Vito Lopez are true - there sure are a lot of them, describing him as a dictatorial pervert with his female staff - it is unjust for him to stay on as a member of the state Assembly.

And whether they're true or false, based on what we know now, we feel it is unjust for Sheldon Silver to remain as the Assembly's speaker.

Here are the facts, according to the Associated Press: Speaker Silver approved a $103,000 secret settlement in June that used public money to end sexual harassment accusations against Mr. Lopez, a Democrat from Brooklyn. The settlement involving two women staffers surfaced Aug. 24, when the Assembly ethics committee censured Mr. Lopez following sexual harassment accusations by two other women staffers in July. Speaker Silver, to his credit, had immediately stripped Lopez of leadership position and its stipend, and has urged Lopez to resign.

Article Photos

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver answers questions in the state Capitol in 2007.
(AP photo)

Lopez has refused to resign and said he never sexually harassed anyone. He said the accusations against him are politically motivated.

When Mr. Lopez's employees' serious claims crossed Speaker Silver's desk, he had the opportunity to do the right thing (report them to the police), the ethically incorrect but decent thing (make sure they were investigated internally and, if verified, that a truly just punishment was issued) or the cowardly thing (ignore them), but instead he chose the wrong thing - to cover them up by paying the plaintiffs $103,000 in hush money from the state coffers.

Speaker Silver has had a good run, but when you start squandering tax dollars to cover up your colleague's embarrassing secrets, it's time to go. Justice demands it.

We don't care if Mr. Silver stays on as an Assemblyman, but not as speaker.

We suppose, after all those years in the political power struggle trenches, Speaker Silver was bound to do something like this at some point. Is this the first time? It makes us wonder if he's helped hush up other allies' misdeeds before.

It's important to note that Mr. Silver apparently wasn't the only state official involved in the cover-up. Again from the AP: Lawyers from the comptroller's office and the attorney general's office had email discussions with the Assembly's lawyer about drafts of the settlement, and emails released last week show discussion of minor elements of three drafts of the settlement. The emails show no approval nor any attempt to reject or block the settlements.

Nevertheless, as head of the Assembly majority, in a state that invests that role with a huge amount of power, and in a disciplinary case involving a member of that majority, Speaker Silver had the final say.

Maybe if the state Legislature shifted some of the power away from the role of Assembly speaker - a person who, after all, is only elected by a fraction of 1 percent of New Yorkers - Mr. Silver's successors would find it easier to do the right thing.



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