State Ethics Commission Meets About Lopez Case
With a political scandal surrounding sexual harassment allegations against State Assemblyman Vito Lopez, the state's ethics commission, known as JCOPE, held a special closed-door meeting. NY1's Zack Fink filed the following report.
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After meeting in executive session for roughly two hours, commissioners brushed past reporters who were waiting to hear what happened.
JCOPE held the special meeting after Gov. Andrew Cuomo and good government groups asked the bipartisan ethics commission to look into sexual harassment charges against Assemblyman Vito Lopez.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver authorized a secret payment of mostly taxpayer funds to two of the alleged victims, who made the claims earlier this year. Other women have since come forward.
Silver admitted he made mistakes in agreeing to keep the payment confidential and for failing to refer the matter to JCOPE himself. He said he also asked Lopez to resign but the Assemblyman refused.
"We will get more of the facts or at least we hope we will get more of the facts," said Barbara Bartoletti of the League of Women Voters. "And I think that is the challenge for JCOPE. This is their first big test. We'll see how well they pass it."
JCOPE, which was created roughly a year ago, is part of the executive branch. Some commissioners have long-standing ties to Gov. Cuomo, including JCOPE executive director Ellen Biben, who formerly served under under Cuomo as inspector general.
Silver said he welcomes JCOPE's investigation. So far, Democratic assembly members said they will continue to support Silver as leader, although critics say the charges here are very serious.
"This is a workplace of very young women and men," Bartoletti said. "And this cannot be tolerated in the New York State Legislature. It has been off and on now for decades that this has gone on. These men are in very powerful positions."
Mayor Michael Bloomberg was asked if the scandal involving Lopez and Silver will affect the city's relationship with its representatives in Albany.
"We work with everybody," he said. "The press always wants to write that it's one person you interface with but the truth of the matter is, you interface with lots of people: with the leadership with the governor's office, with the Senate, with the Assembly, with both sides of the aisle."
Silver stripped Lopez of his leadership positions but cannot force him to resign from the Assembly. As one lawmaker said privately, they can make Lopez uncomfortable but they cannot force him out.