Ethics Panel Sends Lopez Report to Legislature; Silver Reportedly Cleared of Charges

Speaker Silver at last weekend’s Firecracker Festival in Chinatown. Photo by Tim Schreier.

This week, there was some news on the ongoing investigation of the Vito Lopez sex harassment scandal and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s handling of the ordeal.  The state’s Joint Commission on Public Ethics referred its recommendations to two Legislative panels but did not reveal the substance of those recommendations.

Multiple news organizations reported that Silver will not face charges as a result of the investigation.  The longtime Lower East Side Assemblyman admitted making mistakes in dealing with the sensitive situation.  He came under fire for approving payments to two of Lopez’s accusers.  As the Times noted, “there was widespread doubt that the (ethics commission) would take any action against Mr. Silver, since his appointees to the commission’s board have effective veto power over its investigations.”

Sheldon Silver Re-Elected Assembly Speaker, Locals Help Celebrate in Albany

Sheldon Silver with Rabbi Reuven Feinstein.

This week Lower East Side Assemblyman Sheldon Silver was once again re-elected as Speaker, a position he has held since 1992.  Silver invited a group of constituents and community activists up to Albany for the event and the governor’s State of the State Address.  Rabbi Reuven Feinstein, pictured above, delivered the invocation to start the Legislative session.

Last year, of course,  Silver found himself embroiled in the Vito Lopez sex harassment scandal.  Mainstream media, especially the New York Post, talked up the possibility that Silver’s tenure as the first or second most powerful political figure in New York state could be in jeopardy.  This week, Mr. Silver’s re-election was barely mentioned by New York’s daily newspapers.  The state ethics commission continues to look into the Lopez matter.

As Albany Controversy Swirls, Sheldon Silver Comes to Chinatown

Under normal circumstances, State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is a regular presence on the streets of the Lower East Side and Chinatown.   The longtime LES Assemblyman is legendary for keeping close ties to his constituents and to the community organizations that serve them.  It goes without saying that circumstances for Silver are anything but normal these days.  So things were a bit tense yesterday as community organizers and the staff of the Chinese Planning Council awaited Silver’s arrival for the ribbon cutting ceremony at a new computer center (we’ll have more on the new center tomorrow).

Video: Sheldon Silver Stands Up For Barack Obama

It’s been a rough couple of weeks for our state assemblyman, Speaker Sheldon Silver, who’s under fire for the handling of the Vito Lopez sex harassment scandal.  But last night at the Democratic National Convention the New York delegation rallied around Silver as he pledged the state’s delegates to Barack Obama.  His remarks were rather lengthy, prompting an intervention from the podium!

 

Lopez Defies Sheldon Silver, Refuses to Step Down

Sheldon Silver is interviewed by reporters in Charlotte. Photo: Staten Island Advance/Tom Wrobleski.

As the Democratic National Convention moves into its third day in Charlotte, State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver continues to face tough questions from reporters about his role in the sex harassment scandal enveloping Assemblyman Vito Lopez.  Silver sat down with Liz Benjamin of Capital Tonight for a wide-ranging discussion about the upcoming Presidential Election, as well as “Vitogate.”  No big headlines but Silver did brush off a not-very-veiled attack from the Lopez camp yesterday.

Silver Asked Lopez to Resign; Speaker Keeps Leading Role in Charlotte

State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has gone to Charlotte, North Carolina for the Democratic National Convention but the controversy surrounding his handling of sexual harassment cases in Albany has followed him down south.  At the convention, Silver told the Daily News that he called embattled Assemblyman Vito Lopez Friday, and asked him to resign. “He basically was inaudible,” Silver explained. “I got the impression he didn’t appreciate my advice,” he said.

More than a week ago, it was revealed that the Assembly and Lopez quietly settled sexual harassment lawsuits for about $130,000.  Lopez was stripped of his chairmanship of the housing committee and agreed to step down as Brooklyn Democratic Party boss. Silver admitted that it was wrong to keep the settlements secret. 

Latest Developments: Speaker Silver Under Scrutiny

Here’s the latest on the controversy that erupted one week ago over Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s handling of the Vito Lopez sex harassment cases…

The Joint Commission on Public Ethics has launched a preliminary investigation into the Speaker’s decision to authorize payments of $103,000 to two of Assemblyman Lopez’s accusers.  The state Attorney General’s office released documents yesterday showing the women had initially asked for $1.2 million to settle the cases.

Today the New York Times offers this assessment of the predicament facing the longtime Lower East Side lawmaker:

For 18 years, (Silver) has led the State Assembly, and presided as the Legislature’s most powerful Democrat. But he now faces an investigation by the (ethics panel), 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.

Sheldon Silver Faces More Criticism Over Handling of Harassment Cases

Sheldon Silver; file photo.

It has been a week of very bad press for State Assembly Sheldon Silver, who finds himself in the hot seat over his handling of Assemblyman Vito Lopez’s multiple sex harassment cases.  Here are the latest details.

In addition to a $103,000 secret payment to two Lopez accusers, it came to light yesterday that the victims received $32,000 from Lopez directly.  In the past day, Gloria Allred, an attorney representing the women, disputed Silver’s contention that a confidentiality clause in the settlement agreement prevented the Assembly from referring the case to its ethics committee. 

Silver Says Secret Settlement in Lopez Case Was “Wrong From the Perspective of Transparency”

As we reported this morning, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has been under fire in the past 24 hours for a secret settlement in connection with the sexual harassment cases swirling around Assemblyman Vito Lopez.  Tonight the Speaker is out with a statement concerning the controversy and a change in policy:  “In July 2012, two employees in Assemblymember Vito Lopez’s district office filed a complaint about sexual harassment in the Assemblymember’s office.  We referred the complaint promptly to the bipartisan Assembly Committee on Ethics and Guidance and acted swiftly on their recommendations last Friday.  However, it has been the opinion of Assembly counsel, which I endorsed, that if an employee or employees represented by counsel request a confidential mediation and financial settlement, the Assembly would defer to the employees’ desire for mediation and confidentiality and that this precluded referring their complaints to the bipartisan Committee on Ethics and Guidance.  While that opinion is both legally correct and ethical and can result in a resolution sought by complaining employees, I now believe it was the wrong one from the perspective of transparency. 

Sheldon Silver Faces Scrutiny Over Handling of Vito Lopez Sex Harassment Cases

Vito Lopez.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is in the media spotlight today following new reports regarding his handling of the Vito Lopez sexual harassment controversy.  On Friday it was announced that Assemblyman Lopez, Brooklyn’s powerful Democratic Party boss, was censured in connection with harassment allegations brought by two women.  Silver stripped Lopez of his chairmanship of the housing committee.  Then last night it was confirmed that Silver authorized a secret payment of more than $100,000 to settle at least one other claim against Lopez.

Many key elected officials, including the governor and U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer, have urged Lopez to step down. He has refused.  Dick Dadey of the advocacy organization Citizens Union has called for an independent investigation of the payment.  “Taxpayers should be funding public education, not (sweeping) harassment charges aside for bad elected officials,” he told the New York Times.  In today’s newspaper, Times reporter Danny Hakim wrote:

The revelation about the amount of money that the Assembly paid to quietly settle a harassment case is sure to further stoke debate about the handling of harassment cases by Mr. Silver, the Legislature’s most powerful Democrat for the last 15 years. Officials familiar with the Assembly said they knew of no precedent for such a secret payment…

Department of Education Agrees to Reopen Seward Park Playing Fields

The Seward Park athletic courts, on Essex Street.

There’s good news this this afternoon concerning public access to the Seward Park campus playing fields.  Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is out with a press release announcing that the Department of Education, which owns the recreational area on Essex Street, has decided to reopen it for use by the general public.

As we first reported in May, the DOE had closed the facility for neighborhood use. Maintenance workers told residents budget cuts were to blame. Silver, who ten years ago helped secure money to refurbish the fields, sent a letter to Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott urging him to reconsider.  In today’s release, the Speaker said:

I am delighted that my neighbors on the Lower East Side and in Chinatown will now be able to enjoy this wonderful park… Recreational space is so precious to our neighborhood, particularly in the summer, and that is why I fought so hard for the public to once again have access to this field. I want to thank Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott for agreeing to reopen the field. I encourage children in our community to come out and enjoy it!

The rec area consists of basketball courts, tennis courts and a running track.  it’s primarily meant for use by the schools located in the Seward Park campus on Grand Street, but it’s always been widely used by non-students.  Beginning Monday, July 30, the fields will be opening from morning to dusk seven days a week.

M9 Bus Route to Expand in 2013

The M9 bus. Photo via batteryparkcity.com.

Good news for those who take the bus downtown: the M9, which travels through the Lower East Side and Chinatown before terminating at City Hall, may be moving even further south in 2013. According to a press release today from State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, the bus line will be extended to Battery Park City in January, reversing budget cuts which curtailed the route in 2010. The bus line will also stretch further north, going as far uptown as 29th Street to provide accessibility to Bellevue Hospital and NYU Medical Center, Silver’s office said today.

In the release, the Speaker said he had approached MTA Chair Joseph Lhota about extending the M9 line because his Lower Manhattan constituents had suffered commuting difficulties since it was shortened in 2010. He noted that the extended service would greatly help children traveling to Battery Park area schools and elderly people visiting hospitals uptown.

A spokesman for the MTA could “neither confirm nor deny” any plans to extend the M9 bus route before July 25th, when the MTA Board will meet to discuss the matter. More specific information about the bus route’s future will be available after the board convenes.

 

Silver Urges DOE to Reopen Seward Park Field to the Public

The Seward Park athletic courts, on Essex Street. July 2011.

The recreational sports field next to Seward Park, on Essex Street, is a popular destination for neighborhood kids. But in the past couple of months, the handball, tennis, basketball courts and running track have been unusually quiet.  This is because the Department of Education, which controls the field, suddenly decided to keep non-students out of the facility.

Yesterday, State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver released a letter he sent to DOE Chancellor Dennis Walcott, urging him to reverse the decision:

In a community where children have few options for enjoying free, public outdoor activities, it is essential that we reopen this park at once, especially with summer approaching. We should be providing more opportunities for our children to engage in safe, healthy physical activities, not shutting down public access to our parks.

Silver Helps Inaugurate Comprehensive Kids School at 101 Norfolk Street

101 Norfolk Street.

This afternoon, some fancy new signage is going up outside the new headquarters of the Comprehensive Companies, the umbrella firm for a rapidly growing special needs school and therapy and home care services organization.  Last week, Nathan Sklar, the company’s executive director, hosted an open house at the new state-of-the-art facility at 101 Norfolk Street

Silver Calls For Lower East Side Gun Buy-Back Program

85 Pitt Street; June 2011.

This morning, State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has made public a letter he sent to Manhattan DA Cy Vance and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly calling for a “gun buy-back program” on the Lower East Side.  Residents have been concerned about a number of incidents in the last few years. A man was shot in the head on Pitt Street last summerEarlier this month, Housing Bureau officers exchanged gunfire with a fleeing suspect on Columbia Street.