The relationship between Assemblyman Vito Lopez and State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has come under the microscope since Lopez was accused of sexual harassment, and Silver was accused of protecting him. But NY1 has learned that a 2-year-old tenant protection law sponsored by the two Democrats is now the subject of a lawsuit which critics say offers new evidence of collusion between the two powerful lawmakers. NY1's Zack Fink filed the following report.
Since 1982, New York City has had a loft law granting protections to people who live in former commercial spaces. It's been amended several times over the years, but now a building owner has filed suit claiming a little-noticed 2010 carve out was passed by the state legislature for residents of a building on West 27th street in Manhattan.
"This is absolutely a special privilege," said Nativ Winiasrky, the plaintiff's attorney. "This was legislation that was enacted for two individuals and two individuals only."
Among the thousands of commercial and residential spaces in Manhattan, the carve out applied only to three Chelsea blocks. According to the plaintiff, there is only one apartment in this area with tenants. They were evicted in 2009 but refused to leave.
The primary sponsor of the retroactive law allowing them to stay was Assemblyman Vito Lopez, who is now embroiled in a sexual harassment scandal. One of the co-sponsors of the bill was Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who is now accused of protecting Lopez by keeping a taxpayer-funded financial settlement to two female accusers secret.
"I think it certainly raises questions for the citizens of the state of New York as to how legislation was enacted or set forth in general and the legislative process and its transparency or, rather, particularly a lack thereof," Winiarsky said.
Micah Lasher, a former aide to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, helped negotiate the deal. He acknowledged that the 2010 legislation was unusual but said if it was a special deal, it was not for Lopez or Silver.
"Neither Speaker Silver nor Vito Lopez had anything to do with this," Lasher said. "The Senate majority at the time refused to pass legislation, which all parties had agreed to, without these carve-outs, unless it was responsive to concerns from residents in Chelsea."
It's unclear what connection, if any, there is between these tenants and Silver or Lopez. But critics say the fact that their two names are once again linked on something so unorthodox only invites more scrutiny about their collaborations in the past.
"One of the first lessons I learned when I was a corruption prosecutor is when you find one thing that seems a little wrong, it doesn't necessarily mean a lot," said former public corruption prosecutor Mark Peters. "When you find two, suddenly there is a decent chance there is a third."
Attorneys for the building's owner say they are confident they will prevail in court because any law passed by the state legislature must have a rational basis or objectively further a government interest. This law, they argue, does neither.