ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Democratic Assemblyman Vito Lopez said Friday he will resign, not over claims he sexually harassed women staffers, but instead to run for New York City council.
The veteran Brooklyn lawmaker and one-time powerful borough political boss has been under growing pressure to resign. Last year, it was revealed the state secretly paid two women staffers $103,000 to settle the first sexual harassment claims against him. Two more young women staffers he hired to replace them started reporting sexual harassment, even as the settlement was being worked out last summer.
Two blistering reports this week, from a special prosecutor and the state’s Joint Commission on Public Ethics, painted an ugly picture of unwanted comments and contact from the 71-year-old assemblyman, but said there was no evidence to charge him with a crime.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, however, will continue to try to force Lopez out sooner than the June 20 end of the session that Lopez chose.
“Assembly member Lopez should no longer be in public office,” Silver’s spokesman, Michael Whyland, said Friday. “We will move forward with our resolution on Monday.
The ethics report claimed Lopez subjected young female staffers to inappropriate touching and comments about their bodies. It claims they also were forced to write letters to him about how much they loved their jobs.
Silver on Thursday night announced he would put a resolution before the full Assembly on Monday to put Lopez on a trajectory to be expelled, a rarity in the New York Legislature. Silver’s resolution was to call for action on Lopez, but also for the Assembly to consider sanctions based on findings of two investigations that were critical of the handling of Lopez’s case by Silver and his stop staff.
That handling included the $103,000 secret settlement using public money to end the first two formal accusations of sexual harassment against Lopez.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who is also head of the state Democratic Party, repeated his call on Thursday for Lopez to resign or be expelled by the Democrat-led Assembly.
“There should be a zero tolerance policy when it comes to sexual harassment and we must now send a clear message that this behavior is not tolerated,” Cuomo said Friday. “Vito Lopez should not spend another day in office, let alone a whole month. He should resign effective immediately and if he does not, he must be expelled. “
Lopez said in his Friday statement that he was vindicated by those reports, which found a series of claims of sexual harassment, but no proof to lodge a criminal charge. He said he is “gratified” the reports by a special prosecutor and the state Joint Commission on Public Ethics found he committed no crime.
“I expect to run a vigorous campaign on the issues facing the citizens of my community and hope to continue to serve them as a member of the City Council,” Lopez stated. “I believe that the voters of the community should decide who should represent them.”
AP writers Rik Stevens and Michael Virtanen contributed to this report from Albany.