Assemblyman Vito Lopez to Step Down as Brooklyn Democratic Leader
WILLIAMSBURG — After the State Assembly charged him last week with sexually harassing two interns, longtime Assemblyman Vito Lopez announced Tuesday that he will not seek to return to his powerful post as Brooklyn Democratic Leader in the September election.
“The onslaught of character attacks has put tremendous emotional pressure on my family and close friends,” Lopez said in a statement, while still denying the accusations of sexual harassment, which have led many state and city politicians to call for his resignation.
"I have never sexually harassed any staff and I hope and intend to prove in the coming months the political nature of these accusations," he said.
Also on Tuesday, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver admitted an error in judgment for secretly using taxpayer funds to try to settle sexual harassment allegations against Lopez earlier this summer.
While the State Assembly charged Lopez with sexual harassment last week and stripped him of his powerful committee chairmanship, Silver admitted Tuesday that his office had delayed referring the July 2012 complaints to the bipartisan Assembly Committee on Ethics and Guidance, because the alleged victims had requested "mediation and confidentiality" in the case.
The Assembly paid more than $100,000 to settle the cases, the New York Times reported.
"While that opinion [to privately mediate and settle the cases] is both legally correct and ethical," Silver said in a statement, "I now believe it was the wrong one from the perspective of transparency."
"Going forward I will work with independent experts and our counsel’s office to ensure that we put in place policies that both protect the interests of victims and provide adequate transparency and accountability to the public," Silver said.
Lopez, 71, a Brooklyn native, joined the New York State Assembly in 1984 and has been Brooklyn Democratic leader for seven years, according to his website.