ALBANY – Assembly Democrats rallied around Speaker Sheldon Silver on Thursday, as he faced an inquiry into his handling of sexual harassment allegations made against a prominent lawmaker and continued attacks from a lawyer who represented some of the women.
In Brooklyn political circles, lawmakers were discussing how to force Assemblyman Vito J. Lopez, the central figure in the sex scandal, to relinquish his seat.
He has already said he will give up his role as the borough’s Democratic Party leader. But even a longtime ally thought likely to succeed Mr. Lopez as chairman of the Brooklyn Democratic Party, Frank R. Seddio, said it was time for Mr. Lopez to resign after new descriptions of sexual language and harassment in his office.
In one indication of his precarious position, Mr. Lopez has not been calling around to other Assembly members to gauge his level of support – something he would surely do if he were maneuvering to stay, said one member who is close to him.
For Mr. Silver, the fallout from the scandal continues. For 18 years, he has led the State Assembly, and presided as the Legislature’s most powerful Democrat. But he now faces an investigation by the state’s Joint Commission on Public Ethics, which is controlled by appointees and allies of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a fellow Democrat with whom he has had an uneasy relationship. Last year, state lawmakers approved the governor’s plan to expand the jurisdiction of the ethics commission to encompass the Legislature; the investigation of Mr. Silver’s office represents a largely unprecedented incursion by the executive branch into his chamber.
More immediately, Mr. Silver continued to be attacked on Thursday by Gloria Allred, the Los Angeles lawyer who was part of a team that represented two women who brought claims against Mr. Lopez. In a lengthy statement, she said, “It appears that the Assembly speaker, in an effort to divert attention from the Assembly’s conduct, is attempting to blame the women who brought claims against Mr. Lopez and then agreed to a settlement.”
New documents released Thursday night by the state attorney general’s office revealed that Ms. Allred and her co-counsels initially sought $1.2 million for the two women they represented, later offered to accept $600,000, but eventually settled for $135,000 and an unspecified amount of back pay and benefits. According to a draft agreement, one of the women was to receive a cash payment of $60,786 and the other woman $20,262. The two law firms involved were to equally split $54,032.
Mr. Silver’s spokesman, Michael Whyland, said in response to Ms. Allred’s statement on Thursday, “At all times, the Assembly has acted to protect the privacy of the victims and has deferred to their preferences in this matter.”
The scandal erupted last Friday, when the Assembly’s bipartisan ethics committee substantiated claims that Mr. Lopez had harassed two women. Mr. Silver censured Mr. Lopez, 71, one of the city’s last powerful political bosses, taking away his committee chairmanship and barring him from employing interns or anyone under the age of 21. A letter signed by Mr. Silver described “pervasive unwelcome verbal conduct” and said that Mr. Lopez had verbally harassed, groped and kissed two of his staff members without their consent.
Over the next few days, The New York Times reported that Mr. Silver and Mr. Lopez authorized a secret payment of $135,000 in June, mostly with state money, to settle prior allegations against Mr. Lopez from two other women – allegations that were never referred to the ethics committee. Mr. Silver has said that that was a mistake that would not happen again.
Assembly Democrats defended the speaker – saying he had been put in a very difficult situation by Mr. Lopez – and praised him for accepting blame.
“I am a total supporter of the speaker as a leader,” said Shelley Mayer, a Yonkers Democrat who served as the counsel for the New York State Senate before winning a special election to the Assembly this year. “As someone who lived through some very difficult times in the Senate, I know how difficult leadership can be. I think he has exhibited great leadership.”
Assemblyman Joseph D. Morelle, the chairman of the Democratic Party in Monroe County, said, “People in our conference not only have great affection for Shelly, there’s a lot of respect for his skills as a leader, as a speaker, and as an attorney.”
Mr. Morelle, who is close to Mr. Cuomo, has been seen as a potential successor to Mr. Silver, but laughed off the suggestion on Thursday, adding, “He remains strongly
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