Assemblyman Dennis H. Gabryszak may believe he has more than a couple of options in dealing with the sexual harassment scandal that has suddenly enveloped him, but, in fact, there are just two: Issue a forceful and plausible denial or resign.
Following his lawyer’s advice, Gabryszak is saying nothing. If he is innocent, silence isn’t helping him. The allegations leveled by three former female staff members and a current staffer are detailed, shocking and repeated. If they are true – and his accusers are taking a massive personal risk if they aren’t – then they are not likely to be the end of the story.
Gabryszak has served in the Assembly for seven years. Before that, he was Cheektowaga town supervisor for 13 years. If more revelations are waiting to explode at his feet, Gabryszak can do himself and his family a tremendous service by resigning immediately and sparing everyone more excruciating details of sexual harassment and bullying.
The current staff member has just come forward. The three former staffers filed a legal complaint against Gabryszak last week. Two of them were successive communications directors for him. The first quit after being subjected to crude advances, she alleges, and the second one lasted only from spring until October when she, too, quit. She says he bombarded her with frequent and unwelcome sexual references.
The scope and persistence of the allegations would have been shocking at any time, but are especially so at a moment when state officials know they are under exceptional scrutiny. For years, newspapers have reported on sexual improprieties and other offenses by elected officials. Several officials have been forced to resign, including former Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer, who had been cavorting with high-priced hookers.
And yet some officials may be impervious to facts. If the allegations are true, they suggest one of two things, and possibly both: One, the culture of entitlement in Albany is thriving. Despite all the warnings about the price of misconduct, sexual or otherwise, there are still public officials who take their election to office as license to misbehave. The rules of decent conduct, they seem to believe, do not apply once they leave home to breathe the Albany air.
The second possibility is – again, assuming the allegations to be correct – that Gabryszak’s behavior is compulsive. That wouldn’t in any way excuse the chronic abuse reported by his staff members, but it would help to explain wretched behavior that is otherwise all but inexplicable.
Lawmakers, like the rest of us, are only human, and people make mistakes. We understand that, and voters have shown a capacity to forgive occasional indiscretions. But these reports don’t qualify as mere mistakes.
With mistakes come regret and atonement – before they are exposed. They don’t happen over and over and over again. Mistakes don’t drive multiple employees out of good jobs and potentially out of lucrative careers. Mistakes don’t prompt the governor of the state to suggest, bluntly and in the offender’s back yard, that he resign.
That’s what Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo recommended Saturday during a visit to Buffalo and Lackawanna. Cuomo – who, like Gabryszak, is a Democrat – was clear. Cuomo has made a mission of cleaning up Albany and said that if the allegations are true, Gabryszak should quit.
It’s the best advice the assemblyman is likely to receive these days.