The sexual harassment scandal involving a Democratic assemblyman from Brooklyn continued to rage Tuesday from a board room of a state ethics agency in downtown Albany to the party's national convention gathering in North Carolina.
As the State Joint Commission on Public Ethics met behind closed doors to weigh a formal investigation of Assemblyman Veto Lopez, additional calls were coming in for Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver to resign for the deal he cut in private earlier this year to settle two of the cases against Lopez for more than $100,000 in taxpayer funds.
The latest push against Silver came Tuesday from state Republican Party Chairman Edward Cox, who said the Democrat from Manhattan should resign for not referring complaints from two women against Lopez to an ethics panel.
Silver took several actions last week against the once-powerful Lopez - including removing him from his housing committee chairmanship - in the wake of a state legislative ethics panel investigation that said Lopez sexually harassed and groped female staff members. It then came out that Silver quietly cut a deal with lawyers for two women in other cases against Lopez that included a $103,000 payment by the state and more than $30,000 in funds from Lopez. Silver then said he was wrong not to have sent that case to the ethics panel composed of a bipartisan group of lawmakers.
But while the matter is now being looked at by a special prosecutor in New York City, Cox said Silver's actions to privately settle the matter "took an active role in covering up the abuse." He called on Silver to resign.
In Charlotte on Tuesday for the national Democratic Party's convention to renominate President Obama to run against Republican Mitt Romney, Silver found the issue following him after a breakfast meeting at which he spoke to New York delegates.
The speaker told reporters that he will await findings of the offices of the Brooklyn and Staten Island district attorneys before determining if criminal action could lead to expulsion proceedings similar to those involving former State Sen. Hiram Monserrate, a Queens Democrat. Monserrate was ousted by the Senate in 2010 following a misdemeanor assault conviction involving a face-slashing incident of his girlfriend.
"If there is a criminal conviction, that could certainly be a set of conditions that could trigger a Monserrate type of response," Silver said. The speaker on Sunday said he asked Lopez to resign his office last week; the request was rejected.
Silver said he does not believe the Lopez situation will act as a distraction at the convention or in the business of the Assembly.
"This incident is one isolated individual," he said. "It is not systemic." A few hours later in Albany, the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, or JCOPE, met for one minute during a public session before closing the doors for an executive session that lasted a couple of hours. The agency's top investigators include a number of officials with long ties to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has enjoyed hot and cold relations with Silver.
The commission board later reconvened in public for 30 seconds before ending the meeting without saying if it would investigate the case. Silver has said he welcomes an ethics probe from the commission.
Whether a JCOPE investigation would look just into the Lopez incidents or the Silver-approved settlement as well is uncertain. Lopez has denied wrongdoing.
JCOPE needs eight of its 14 members to approve an investigation. If a lawmaker is under suspicion of wrongdoing, two JCOPE members appointed by the leader from the same party - in this case appointees of Silver and Senate Minority Leader John Sampson _ would need to agree.
Most observers believe JCOPE would have little reason not to jump into the investigation, unless officials wanted to await the outcome of the special prosecutor's probe.
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