By Raanan Geberer
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Williamsburg-Bushwick Assemblyman Vito Lopez, who is the leader of the Democratic Paty in Brooklyn, is facing a rising chorus demanding his resignation following his implication in a sexual harassment scandal.
Lopez lost his committee chairmanship and seniority on Friday after the bipartisan, eight-member Assembly Committee on Ethics and Guidance found he violated the chamber's sexual harassment policy.
The panel unanimously found that Lopez created a hostile workplace, including verbal and physical sexual abuse, and that his response to the allegations was "not credible."
Among the high-profile public officials who called for Lopez to step down since he was censured by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver on Friday were Gov. Andrew Cuomo; Senator Charles Schumer, a resident of Park Slope; Brooklyn Rep. Jerrold Nadler, andCity Council Speaker Christine Quinn.
“Assemblyman Lopez has violated the trust and safety of his staff, and broken faith with the people he represents. It is time for him to resign his seat in the Assembly and step down as Brooklyn Democratic Party chair,” said Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, who formerly represent Park Slope in the City Council.
Mayoral hopeful William Thompson said, “Sexual harassment cannot be tolerated under any circumstances and I urge the Assemblyman to step down from his Assembly seat and the Brooklyn Democratic County chairmanship.”
“As president of the county with one of the largest Democratic party organizations in the country, I expect Vito Lopez to do the right thing for Democrats in Brooklyn, New York state and nationwide," weighed in Borough President Marty Markowitz.
The New York Times reported that Lopez’ attorney, Gerald B. Lefcourt, denied the charges on Friday and strongly criticized the Assembly’s investigation as “lawless.”
Attempts by the Brooklyn Eagle to reach Lopez and his attorney on Monday were unsuccessful.
Hank Sheinkopf, a veteran Democratic political consultant, told the Eagle that Lopez would probably continue to fight to stay in office.
However, he said, “If he is removed as Brooklyn Democratic Party chair after the election, he will be in a much weakened position, and more and more people will start to criticize him.”
A meeting of the party can’t be held until after the election, he explained, because new district leaders and delegates may be elected.
Sheinkopf, who says he has known Lopez for 30 years, said the assemblyman has been effective as county leader. However, Sheinkopf accepts the ruling of the bipartisan panel.
“Speaker Silver put these very strong sexual harassment guidelines in place following an earlier scandal involving Michael Boxley, an attorney and an aide to Speaker Silver, who was accused of rape,” said Sheinkopf.
Assemblywoman Joan Millman, who represents an area stretching from Brooklyn Heights to Park Slope, told the Brooklyn Eagle, “It’s shocking, and it’s not a case of innuendo or gossip. The panel contained four Democrats and four Republicans.
“I take it seriously, not only as a legislator but as a female.”
Millman pointed out that if Lopez returns to Albany in the spring, he will lose three-quarters of his staff and basically be treated like a freshman legislator.
“I don’t know how effective he can be in this situation,” she said. He should abdicate his position, she added.
Speaking for the borough’s Republicans, Russ Gallo, GOP district leader for Gravesend, told the Eagle, “Basically, Democrats have a stranglehold on the city of New York. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. These guys think they’re untouchable — throughout the city. Vito Lopez is part of the corrupt Democratic machine.”
Lopez was first elected to the Assembly in 1984. He is also the founder of the Ridgewood-Bushwick Senior Citizens Council.
Some of the incidents Lopez was accused of include putting his hand on a staffer's leg and after she removed it, trying to put his hand between her thighs; holding a staffer's hand and playing with her hair; and requiring that both staffers write to him about how much they loved their jobs and cared about him.