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. Zack Fink has more from Albany.
ALBANY, N.Y. -- 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 Governor Cuomo and good government groups asked the bi-partisan 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 has admitted he made mistakes in agreeing to keep the payment confidential and for failing to refer the matter to JCOPE himself. He says 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. And I think that is the challenge for JCOPE. This is their first big test. We'll see how well they pass it," said Barbara Bartoletti of the League of Women Voters.
JCOPE, which was created roughly a year ago, is part of the executive branch and some commissioners have long-standing ties to Governor Cuomo, including JCOPE Executive Director Ellen Biben, who formerly served under Cuomo as Inspector General.
Silver has said he welcomes JCOPE's investigation. So far, democratic assembly members have said they will continue to support Silver as leader, although critics say the charges here are very serious.
Bartoletti said, "This is a workplace of very young women and men. 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."
New York City Mayor 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. The press always wants to write that its one person you interface with, but the truth of the matter is you interface with lots of people the leadership with the governor’s office, with the Senate, the Assembly, both sides of the aisle," Bloomberg said.
Silver has 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.