By Jill Colvin
CITY HALL — After eight hours of deliberation Wednesday a City Council ethics committee decided Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez was guilty of inappropriately touching a staffer and unanimously recommended that he be suspended as chair of the Higher Education Committee.
Rodriguez, Councilman for Inwood and Washington Heights, had been accused of "poking" an unidentified female Council staffer "between the throat and upper chest" during a heated argument at a budget discussion on June 25.
The Council's Standards and Ethics Committee decided that the councilman will have to undergo a mandatory employee relations course.
"The committee has found by a preponderance of the evidence that the allegations are substantiated," said Committee Chair Inez Dickens after the hearing, which was closed to the public.
Following the vote, Rodriguez staunchly denied the claims.
"As I have said from the beginning, I did not poke or yell at the person making the allegations against me," he said, surrounded by dozens of supports who had spent the day in the building waiting for the closed-door hearing to end.
He said that he was "disappointed" by the lack of transparency and the way the hearing had been run.
"The ethics committee reached this decision without one single witness, I repeat, not one single witness, who saw me poke or heard me yell at the complainant, even though there were at least 10 people within a few feet of where the incident supposedly took place," he said.
The committee will now submit a report by Aug. 13 to the full Council, which will vote on the sanctions.
The dozens of Manhattanites who turned out to show their support for Rodriguez said they were deeply disappointed by the decision.
Carmen Alvarez, 49, who lives in Washington Heights, said she has no doubts that he is innocent of the charges.
"I am very angry," she said. "There's a lot of corruption out there. It was very ugly what they did to Ydanis."
Luminada Hilario, 53, a close supporter who lives on the Upper West Side, said that she believes the incident was a cultural misunderstanding.
"We Dominican people, we speak with our hands. We touch each other. It's normal. But we don't do it with malice," she said.
The case, she said, was "a slap on the face of every Dominican who lives in New York and in Washington Heights... It's a disrespect to us as a culture."
But Washington Heights resident Ruth Polanco was less supportive.
"He needs to be suspended, needs to apologize in public and the suspension needs to stay on his record in case something like that ever happens again," said Polanco. "We all go through harassment training in our jobs and they [council members] are no different. An employee has the right to press charges against him if she wants to."
Rodriguez's attorney, Leo Glickman, said he is currently evaluating whether or not to add a charge of due process violations to an injunction that was previously filed seeking to have the hearing held in public.
An Inwood resident who spotted Rodriguez after the hearing tweeted, "Saw Ydanis R on A train. Seemed a bit stressed. Lots of supporters around him. #Inwood."
Rodriguez's supporters are planning a rally in support of the councilman later this week.