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.
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; 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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 summer. Earlier this month, Housing Bureau officers exchanged gunfire with a fleeing suspect on Columbia Street.
Firefighters rescued residents from the Smith Houses last week.
One week ago, residents of the Smith Houses were displaced when a fire broke out in an eighth floor apartment at 388 Pearl Street. In the days that followed, people living in the large public housing development have contended with persistent gas outages. 159 apartments are without service.
This morning we’ve received a copy of a letter State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver sent to John Rhea, head of the NYC Housing Authority, about the situation.
Friday, Delancey Street.
On Friday, 12-year old Dashane Santana was killed by the driver of a minivan on Delancey Street. Today State Assembly Sheldon Silver is out with a letter he wrote to Transportation Department Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan:
I am writing to you once again in the wake of a tragic death on Delancey Street. The recent accident which took the life of 1 2-year-old Dashane Santana is yet another reminder that we must act immediately to improve safety conditions for pedestrians at several dangerous intersections on Delancey Street. As I suggested several months ago, on the heels of a report detailing the large number of vehicle accidents on Delancey, the Department of Transportation (DOT) should undertake a comprehensive safety study and recommend improvements that would enhance protections for pedestrians at several intersections. In the meantime, there are several measures that could be implemented right away for the benefit of my Lower East Side community.
Well our headline might be a slight exaggeration. Don’t expect 140 character missives on the bialys at Kossar’s anytime soon. But the New York State Assembly (and Speaker Silver by extension) have, in fact, finally established a twitter account. Here’s the press release. Yes, there was a press release!
Speaker Sheldon Silver announced that the New York State Assembly is expanding its communications outreach through social media by establishing an official Assembly Majority account on Twitter. @NYSA_MAJORITY will serve as a central source for updates on proceedings undertaken by the Assembly. “This new initiative will promote transparency and make the New York State Assembly more accessible to our constituents,” said Silver. This use of social networking will enhance distribution of current news and information. The account will be used in conjunction with the New York State Assembly website, www.assembly.state.ny.us, which features press releases, reports and calendars as well as information on members, bills and legislation.
No word what this will mean for the mysterious twitter account @ShellySilver (Fake Shelly).
State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver wants the city to look into expanding East River Ferry service to the Lower East Side. Right now there’s only one Lower Manhattan stop — Pier 11 at Wall Street. In a letter to Deputy Mayor Robert Steele, Silver writes:
…Residents of the eastern end of Grand Street, as well as the thousands of residents of New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) complexes in this area, suffer from a serious lack of access to public transportation. Lower East Side residents, particularly students and seniors, have difficulty reaching the financial district, as well as other parts of Lower Manhattan, due to the distance they must travel to the closest subways stations on East Broadway and Delancey Street. Bus service is infrequent and often unreliable. The city has done an outstanding job of using our waterways in a creative and effective manner to expand our transportation network and I urge you to examine the feasibility of including the Lower East Side in your regional ferry plan.
The ferry service, operated by New York Waterway, debuted last summer and was a big success. The city subsidized the ferry to the tune of about $9 million over the course of a three year contract. The schedule was trimmed when the summer ended, due to limited funding. The city has said the main purpose of the ferry is to encourage economic development (new housing and business) along the Manhattan and Brooklyn waterfront.
The City Council yesterday approved a resolution urging the U.S. Congress to pass legislation – stalled for many months – to regulate discount interstate bus companies. Following a series of deadly accidents involving to so-called Chinatown buses, there was a big push to pass “The Motorcoach Enhanced Safety Act of 2011.”
The proposed law would require buses to have seat belts, stronger windows, crush-resistant roofs, and it would mandate safety inspections for all new companies. Downtown City Councilmember Margaret Chin said, the federal legislation is moving too slowly, adding “These may sound like very basic things, but this is what saves lives.”