Another bombshell went off in state politics Wednesday afternoon after State Sen. Jeff Klein was accused of sexual harassment by a former staffer. Klein is the leader of a breakaway group of Democrats known as the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC).
In an interview with The Huffington Post, former State Senate employee Erica Vladimer claims that Klein forcibly kissed her outside a bar on the night the state budget was passed in 2015. Vladimer left her job just a few months later and now works for the city's Independent Budget Office.
Seeking to get ahead of the story, Klein hastily called a telephone news conference with reporters shortly before the article was posted online.
"The reason for this call is to let you know that a former IDC staffer has made a serious allegation made to a Huffington Post reporter against me," Klein said in the conference. "We expect there to be an article about this, but no formal complaint was made."
While the powerful Bronx lawmaker admits to stepping outside the bar Justin's with Vladimer to smoke a cigarette, he denies forcibly kissing her.
Klein was backed up by fellow State Sen. Diane Savino, who has had a romantic relationship with Klein. Savino said she was also at the bar that night.
"This never occurred," Savino said in a phone call. "Sen. Klein was outside smoking and he wasn't alone. There were other people there. There were other staff members smoking. This incident never occurred."
But after claiming they first heard about this allegation only last week, Klein then clarified on the call that he actually heard something about the allegation at the time.
"The following day after March 31st, I heard a rumor from a staffer of mine as to the alleged incident. My immediate reaction then, as now, is to say that this did not occur, because it did not," Klein says.
Whether Vladimer's allegation is true or not, it's clear that something has been on her mind for the last several months. On her Facebook page last October, after the Harvey Weinstein sexual harassment story broke, she posted on her Facebook page: "To the women in my life, and to those I connected with in years past -- I promise to find a way to break my silence, and I promise to help you find the strength to break yours, too."
We reached out to Vladimir directly but did not hear back. Late-Wednesday, the remaining members of the IDC issued a statement saying they have complete confidence in Klein and stand behind him.
Klein has hired an attorney which is conducting its own review. The IDC controls the majority in the State Senate in a coalition with Republicans, so Klein has undergone a lot of criticism from fellow Democrats and progressive activists. This story will likely intensify criticisms of Klein and his relationship with State Senate Republicans.
"Every allegation of sexual misconduct must be taken seriously. I agree with Senator Klein and with Senator Krueger that this disturbing situation should be investigated, and I believe it should be done immediately and independently," Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a statement Wednesday night.