Alone among Democrats in the New York State Assembly, Michael P. Kearns has the nerve to call on Speaker Sheldon Silver to step down in light of Silver’s maneuvers to protect a serial sexual harasser. And in the effort by the speaker’s office to smear Kearns is abundant additional evidence of a critical lack of good judgment.
Silver is under pressure following a special prosecutor’s report showing that the Assembly leadership’s response to complaints about sexual harassment by a prominent Democrat, Vito J. Lopez, had more to do with protecting Lopez and the chamber’s Democrats than it did about protecting female staff members who were being intolerably and routinely harassed.
What is more, the report contradicts Silver’s earlier statements that the women involved sought the secret settlement he made with Lopez – using taxpayer dollars. They didn’t and, according to the report, the secrecy was all about avoiding public accountability.
Kearns wants accountability. On the same day that Lopez resigned his seat, Kearns called on Silver to step down – as this page also has – and announced that he was quitting the Democratic conference in protest of Silver’s handling of the matter.
In response, a Silver spokesman attacked Kearns with a comment that was simultaneously false, unprincipled, juvenile and insulting to Kearns’ constituents. “Two members left the Democratic conference today, Vito Lopez and Mickey Kearns,” said Michael Whyland. “One was a closet harasser, one a closet Republican. Neither one will be missed.”
It was as low a comment as you can imagine, linking Kearns’ principled stand with Lopez’s abuse of female staff members. Maybe Whyland thought that smearing Kearns would distract attention from Silver’s efforts to cover up the harassment and protect Lopez.
To his credit, Silver has apologized for protecting Lopez, pledging to ensure that any future such instances are directed to a special counsel. He also insisted – though not very credibly – that he didn’t know the extent of Lopez’s wretched conduct.
But Kearns is right. An apology doesn’t balance the scales. The sin here isn’t that Kearns demanded Silver’s head, but that no other Assembly Democrats have the courage to follow suit. Sure, they’re afraid – the last assemblyman who tried to topple Silver, Michael Bragman, lost his position as majority leader, and less than two years later left the Assembly.
But so what? There are some standards on which even political fraidy cats should be able to agree. When the Assembly leader of a party that brags about its commitment to women’s issues addresses a crisis in this way, members should be up in arms. That they are not speaks volumes about the state of the State Assembly.