ALBANY – Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver says he believes he will be vindicated in the controversial decision to approve a $103,000 settlement for two former staffers who say they were sexually harassed by Assemblyman Vito J. Lopez, the once-powerful Brooklyn Democrat.
The Joint Commission on Public Ethics has been investigating the matter and recently talked with Silver, the Manhattan Democrat who has led the Assembly for a generation and signed off on the confidential payments.
“I am confident that, in the end result, JCOPE will find that we acted in the best interests of the victims in good faith pursuant to the law,” Silver told The Buffalo News in an interview at the Capitol on Tuesday.
Silver, who in the past said he regretted some of the ways he handled the cases against Lopez, said he welcomed the investigation.
State Republican Chairman Edward F. Cox blasted Silver’s comments. “The fact that the speaker expects to be vindicated is indicative of underlying hubris regarding this blatant cover-up, using $103,000 of taxpayer money,” Cox said.
Earlier, some Republicans had called for Silver to be ousted as the Assembly leader. Does he have any regrets in the matter?
“There are competing thoughts on whether things should be done in privacy to protect victims or whether things should be done in public because it’s a government that we’re dealing with,” Silver said of the criticism he has received for signing off on the confidential payments. “There are arguments on both sides. One outweighs the other, and I think we have to come to a conclusion that may weigh on the side of public disclosure. But it’s a close question.”
Silver has said that all such complaints against lawmakers now will be automatically turned over to a legislative ethics committee to investigate. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo had said he believed that the ethics commission, which has a number of top former Cuomo staffers working for it, would be finished with its probe of the Lopez episode by Election Day.
Lopez overwhelmingly won re-election to his Assembly seat. Silver earlier stripped him of his longtime post as Housing Committee chairman, but Silver’s secret handling of the matter has been called into question and is a part of the ethics commission investigation.
In the past, Silver defended the decision to work in secret on the Lopez deal as a way to protect the two victims, who alleged they were harassed by the assemblyman.
Silver was in Albany on Tuesday for a meeting with newly elected members of the Assembly, who will take office in January.
On other matters, Silver said in The News interview what most at the Capitol already believe to be the case: Prospects are dim for a special session before the end of the year to deal with several issues, including a legislative pay raise.
“I would say it’s probably unlikely,” Silver said.
“I think people are focused with the devastation of the storm and uncertainty as to the Senate leadership,” he said.
Democrats and Republicans are still counting paper ballots from Election Day in a race that will decide control of the Senate.
The Assembly leader was dismissive of the possibility of a coalition-type Senate that Republicans might have put together with some Senate Democrats in order to keep power.
“I don’t think it’s a coalition. I think it will be pure politics,” Silver said.
What does he mean by that?
“Meaning whatever offers the best to the most,” he said.
A day after Cuomo put New York’s total price tag from Superstorm Sandy at $42 billion, Silver said that it is still too soon to know what the impact will be on the state’s finances for the remainder of this fiscal year and the new one that starts April 1. He said the true picture won’t be known until sales and income tax revenue numbers come in after December.