May 22nd - 4:57 pm
A Thruway Authority official was forced to resign last night and was escorted out of his office after an investigation found a sexual harassment complaint lodged against him to be credible, an authority spokesman confirmed.
“A sexual harassment allegation was made against the employee earlier this year,” said Dan Weiller. “The Thruway Authority conducted an independent investigation into the allegations and at the conclusion told the employee to resign or face termination proceedings.”
A source familiar with this matter confirmed the official in question is Donald Bell, director of maintenance and operations since March 2006. Bell started working at the authority in 1991.
According to this source, Bell was not an “at will” employee, which made firing him outright difficult because it would have been a lengthy process likely involving arbitration. Instead, he was given a choice by the administration: Voluntarily resign or see an effort to terminate him undetaken by the authority.
These kinds of incidents likely – and regrettably – occur a lot more frequently than we know. But in the post-Vito Lopez world, a higher level of scrutiny is being paid to the handling of sexual harassment complaints.
It’s worth noting that this was dealt with quickly, once the complaint was determined to be viable. But, then again, the rules governing elected officials and employees are entirely different. To start: You can’t simply fire (or, in this case, force out) a lawmaker who was put in place by the voters.
May 17th - 1:56 pm
Even though Assemblyman Vito Lopez is resigning in disgrace – and under duress – following his sexual harassment scandal, that’s not enough to prevent him from continuing to collect his $64,634.28 annual pension.
That’s right, “continuing.” Lopez is actually already retired, and has been since Dec. 31, 2010, acccording to the state comptroller’s office. (He had 48.16 years of service credit at the time; he started his career with the NYC Department of Social Services at the Stanhope Street Senior Center in Bushwick, Brooklyn, and was elected to the Assembly in 1984 ).
Lopez was one of ten lawmakers to file retirement papers three years ago, enabling them to start collecting their pensions and their legislative salaries (in Lopez’s case, $92,000) at the same time. The controversial move might be deemed double-dipping by some, but it’s completely legal thanks to a loophole that applies to legislators who are older than 65.
Remember: Lopez hasn’t been charged with any crimes, and would have to be found guilty of a felony-level offense in order to automatically lose his seat.
Even if he WAS to be found guilty of such a crime, he would still be able to continue collecting his pension. There are a number of proposals out there – including one first floated by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2011 – that would end that practice going forward, but would not apply to the many former elected officials who were found guilty of wrongdoing and continue to collect their taxpayer-funded pensions anyway.
(UPDATE: I’m reminded by the governor’s office that this was passed as part of the 2011 ethics reform package Cuomo pushed through the Legislature, using a Moreland Act Commission threat – much the way he has in the wake of the recent wave of corruption scandals in hopes of getting more reforms, including changes to the campaign finance system).
Also, expulsion from the Legislature, which it appears the Assembly might try to do to Lopez, since he so far has refused to depart until the end of this session, does not terminate a former lawmaker’s pension, either.
May 16th - 12:18 pm
Albany County District Attorney David Soares does not plan to conduct his own criminal investigation into allegations of sexual harassment made by legislative aides against Assemblyman Vito Lopez.
“There’s been no allegations of criminal conduct that’s taken place in this jurisdiction and you know you have to trust the work that’s been done in the number of witnesses that’s been interviewed and the voluminous paperwork that’s been examined,” Soares said.
Soares praised the work of Staten Island District Attorney Dan Donovan, appointed special prosecutor in the case, along with the Joint Commission on Public Ethics.
“I think that’s been thoroughly vetted by JCOPE as well as investigated by my colleague Dan Donovan who did what I believe is a fantastic job,” Soares said to reporters at the Capitol this morning.
But Soares, a Democrat, did call the Assembly’s handling of the case “awful” and called for changes in how the Assembly conducts sexual harassment claims.
“I believe this is the beginning of something else that’s going to cause this entire building how they handle these matters.” Soares said. ”There does need to be institutional changes and I believe that DA Donovan did a very good job of laying that out.”
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s office has said multiple times that keeping the confidential settlement a secret was a mistake, but has maintained top aides and the speaker acted in the best interests of the victims.
“There’s nothing I’ve read that to determine that the people who were most impacted by this behavior were provided any kind of victim advocacy or services,” Soares said.
May 15th - 4:12 pm
Both Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Comptroller Tom DiNapoli last summer were swept up in the Vito Lopez sexual harassment affair.
The report released today by the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, they say, shows they had very little to do with the mess.
Indeed, the JCOPE report shows Schneiderman’s office did to provide specific guidance on how to handle the settlements, only a broad framework and did not recommend confidentiality.
“We appreciate the reports by JCOPE and District Attorney Donovan. As they make clear, the Office of the Attorney General was not asked to serve as counsel to the Assembly in this matter, nor was our office asked to approve the settlement agreement. Also as noted, consistent with longstanding policy that predates our administration, office lawyers provided a limited response to an informal inquiry, as well as a model settlement agreement that did not include a confidentiality clause. We have since revised internal office policies to make clear that even informal consultations are elevated when the circumstances merit it.”
DiNapoli, meanwhile, said there is a need for great transparency in processing settlement claims, and in his statement reiterated what he told ethics investigators.
As the Joint Commission on Public Ethics and the Office of the Staten Island District Attorney found, staff in the Office of the State Comptroller performed its statutory responsibilities, consistent with long-standing policies and procedures. There is a need, however, for greater transparency and review for these legal payments. My office is taking steps to ensure this happens and is examining our existing policies to make any appropriate modifications.
May 14th - 7:41 pm
Just three days after he interviewed with Albany County Democratic leaders and received their endorsement to run for a sixth term, Mayor Jerry Jennings has announced he will not seek re-election this fall.
“My love for this City and my commitment to our children, our neighborhoods, and the people who reside in them is boundless,” the mayor wrote in a statement released to members of the media this evening.
“Given this, the decision of whether to seek another term as your mayor has been one of the most difficult evaulations I have ever faced. My family has been supportive; my trusted friends valued.”
“After countless hours of deliberation and evaluation, I have decided not to seek re-election as your Mayor. Although every day I still find joy in the work I do and the people I serve, the time has come for a new chapter to be written.”
This doesn’t come as a big surprise. Sources close to Jennings have been saying for some time now that he was deeply torn about whether to run again, and he regularly admitted that he had not yet made up his mind.
Jennings was first elected in 1993, so it has been some time since there was an open race for mayor in Albany, which is rather infamous for electing local leaders with longevity.
Erastus Corning served for more than 40 years, from 1942 to 1983, and died in office. He was succeeded by Tom Whalen, who chose not to seek re-election in 1993 and was succeeded by Jennings after Jennings – then a bomb-throwing maverick Common Council member – defeated the Democratic Party’s endorsed candidate and former chairman, Harold Joyce, in a hotly contested primary.
Jennings, a former Albany High School vice principal who is perhaps best known for his year-round town and bear-hugging style (with both men and women), is an ally of Gov. Andrew Cuomo. In fact, he was one of the few Democratic elected officials to support Cuomo’s ill-fated 2002 gubernatorial primary against the party favorite, then-state Comptroller H. Carl McCall.
There was some speculation when Cuomo ran in 2010 that Jennings might be tapped to be his running-mate, but the then-AG chose Rochester Mayor Bob Duffy instead. There was also talk that Jennings might join the Cuomo administration, but that never happened either.
With this decision, the fall election season just got a whole lot more interesting in Albany. City Treasurer Kathy Sheehan and 11th Ward Democratic Leader Corey Ellis have already announced their campaigns, which would have set Jennings up in a three-way primary at a time when some observers are starting to talk about the need for new blood in City Hall.
Now that this is an open seat, however, it’s possible more contenders will jump into the race. It seems a little late in the game, since the race will likely be decided in the September primary, given the city’s Democrat enrollment edge. But, then again, petitioning doesn’t begin until next month.
May 14th - 5:55 pm
A spokesman for the Democratic-led Assembly emailed this afternoon to note a 2012 versus 2011 comparison for the passage of bills isn’t completely fair.
An earlier post looked at the number of bills that have passed in the Senate and Assembly versus this time last year, according to an analysis from NYPIRG.
Lawmakers have approved 66 bills in both houses. Last year’s count in the middle of May was 81.
Last year lawmakers in either house combined for the lowest total number of bills passing since 1914.
But the spokesman, Mike Whyland, said it’s more accurate to compare similar years, i.e. the first year of an elected legislative session as opposed to the second year of a previous session since bills can pass twice in a session.
Whyland wrote: “We have passed more bills at this time compared to 2011 – 234 versus 173 The exact same number of bills have passed both houses this year versus 2001, and one more than 2009 – (66 in 2013 and 2011, 65 in 2009)”
Bill Mahoney, the NYPIRG numbers cruncher who put the analysis together agreed the more bills tend to pass in the second year of the two-year session, but isn’t always the case.
From his email in response to Whyland’s take:
“… they passed only 571 two-house bills in 2012 compared to 679 in 2011. The momentum of this year’s session certainly seems to be one of declension, mirroring 2012 more than 2011 or most previous years. We’re obviously more than a month from knowing how this session plays out, but their trailing of last year’s totals and the “state of limbo” you described certainly make sit seem plausible the final numbers will below 2012′s.”
May 14th - 4:31 pm
Lawmakers did not pass many bills in 2012.
In fact, the joint effort from the state Assembly and Senate produced 571 two-house bills, the lowest figure since 1914.
Now lawmakers in the Assembly and Senate are on track to break that record, according to a numbers analysis provided by the New York Public Interest Research Group.
(For NYPIRG’s exhaustive end-of-session analysis released last summer, go here.)
Since January, the Democratic-led Assembly has passed 235 bills. At this point in May 2012, the chamber had voted on and approved 366 pieces of legislation.
In the Senate, which is being governed now by a coalition of Republicans and four independent Democrats, 295 bills have been approved since January. By mid-May last year, the then-Republican majority in the Senate had approved far more: 475.
All told, lawmakers have approved 66 bills in both houses. Last year’s count in the middle of May: 81.
There are, of course, a few things to take into consideration.
The legislative session lasts another five weeks and a deluge of bills is often approved the final week in June.
The numbers also don’t tell the complete story of the quality of the legislation that is approved, either.
But the stats do provide an understanding into how the Legislature is, or isn’t, working at this point in the year.
They provide some telling evidence for the discussion of whether Albany is in a state of limbo and if Gov. Andrew Cuomo can push legislators into accepting his post-budget agenda that includes anti-corruption measures, a casino expansion and siting proposal and a women’s agenda.
May 14th - 10:48 am
From the morning memo:
On a day-to-day basis, not much news is actually made in Albany.
But there’s still a 24-hour news cycle to feed, news to print, blogs to post to, air time to fill and tweets to, uh, tweet.
And after the deluge of corruption news over the last few months, state officials have no desire to feed the news beast as it were.
Lawmakers, never ones to relish a journey to the building they were elected by their peers to travel to, are avoiding Albany this week like it’s a plague town.
Though it was a previously scheduled light week to begin with given today’s Jewish holiday, the Senate decided to not hold any legislative session days and the Assembly packed up and left town after only a day.
The side effect is the spotlight turns to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who is plugging away in Albany on his casino siting proposal, as well as a separate economic development project with extremely nebulous details.
Cuomo, in some small way, has a luxury with lawmakers out of town. He can focus on governing and doing what he loves best: Portraying the state as functioning, even in the rolling crisis that is the public corruption arrests and possible investigations.
The governor once again laid out his case for privatizing the Long Island Power Authority in the wake of Superstorm Sandy and the poor response from the publicly held utility.
He met with Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos, both of whom exited the closed-door meeting with the governor to report the legislative session sunny with a chance of job creation.
The Assembly met to approve — yet again — a version of the farmworkers labor bill that stands little chance of approval in the Senate.
Either way, there was a true lack of “news” in the traditional sense yesterday at the Capitol with the governor in control of the show.
Given the day as a moment in time, one would be forgiven for thinking that Albany is at a true standstill, stuck in the mud of corrupt activity and a lack of inertia following the passage of a sweeping gun control law that forced Cuomo to expend a large quantity of political capital.
Cuomo at a question-and-answer session with reporters Monday afternoon warned against viewing each day as a snapshot.
Accomplishments in Albany, after all, are done so in chunks, not in drips.
For now, Cuomo and top lawmakers appear to be following the very traditional playbook of allowing things to simmer for much of the post-budget spring before pushing the button on a so-called “Big Ugly” toward the end of June.
What is finally in that package remains to be seen. Given this isn’t an election year for state electeds, there may be very little incentive for even responding to the corruption cases.
But consider the economic development program that hangs out there: Cuomo and lawmakers may be leaning toward an end-of-session victory should everything else fall away.
It’s all speculation of course. But hey, slow news day.
May 8th - 4:51 pm
Democratic Sen. Jose Peralta of Queens said in a statement he’s certain authorities will find that he did not engage in any illegal activities.
But unlike Sen. Eric Adams and city Councilman Ruben Wills, Peralta did not deny he was under a criminal investigation after being named as one of six sitting senators who was secretly recorded by Sen. Shirley Huntley and named in unsealed court documents today.
“I am confident that the authorities will find, if they have not already done so, that I have engaged in no wrongdoing whatsoever.”
May 8th - 12:42 pm
Legislative Correspondents Association President and Daily News reporter Glenn Blain sent a letter of concern today to Senate Republican spokesman Scott Reif after reporters were briefly barred from entering yesterday’s public hearing on the New York City campaign finance system.
Blain sent the letter today and forwarded it to members of the LCA.
Myself, along with Capital Tonight video producer Bryan Terry, NY1′s Zack Fink and several other LCA members were initially told by sergeants-at-arms the room was at capacity despite the clear availability of space. To be fair to Reif, he personally came out of the meeting room to let journalists inside.
“We are certainly aware of the charged nature of the hearing — implementing a statewide system of public campaign finance,” Blain wrote. “But we did not expect to be rebuffed or accosted as we, duly credentialed members of the news media, conversed with demonstrators and attempted to enter the hearing.”
The hearing — which aimed to take a critical look at the New York City public financing system as Albany lawmakers consider a statewide adoption — was overshadowed by noisy protests and advocates for public financing who were not allowed inside the room.