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Just when it seemed things could not get worse in scandal-plagued Albany, state ethics officials and a special prosecutor issued findings last week on sexual harassment allegations against Assemblyman Vito Lopez and on how Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and his staff handled the complaints.
While no criminal charges resulted, the findings made clear that Mr. Lopez's behavior was deplorable-and that the speaker's office took actions that allowed it to continue.
By Monday, Mr. Lopez was gone from the state Legislature. And Mr. Silver? He was apologetic but firm in his refusal to step down from his leadership post. Virtually without exception, his fellow Democratic lawmakers stood behind him.
All of this, of course, should surprise no one. And that underscores how foul the political culture in Albany remains-despite the frequent talk of reform.
The Lopez controversy dates to last August, when the Assembly Standing Committee on Ethics and Guidance cited the Brooklyn lawmaker for "multiple incidents of unwelcome physical conduct" inflicted on two members of his staff a few months earlier. Mr. Silver issued a letter of censure, removed Mr. Lopez from a committee chairman's post and took several other punitive actions.
But a short time later, published reports revealed that previous complaints by female employees in Mr. Lopez's office had been kept out of the public eye. A confidential settlement agreed to by Mr. Silver included a $103,000 payment from state funds.
The special prosecutor, Daniel Donovan Jr., said in a statement that his investigation "revealed that during the mediation and negotiation of (this) settlement, the chief concern of those in the Assembly was mitigating the Assembly's damages. That goal outweighed any interest in investigating or disciplining Assembly Member Lopez or in preventing similar occurrences in the future."
So it happened again. That's how it goes in Albany.
Ousting Mr. Silver as Assembly speaker would not transform the capital's culture; the problems are too deeply rooted. But consequences for misuse of his power would be a first step.
Instead, there is silence from Democrats who are unwilling-or too afraid-to challenge him.
5/24/13 (c) 2013 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email email@example.com.