BUFFALO, NY — Already there is political fallout from Sam Hoyt’s sudden departure from his state job, amid allegations of sexual harassment by a woman who Hoyt admittedly paid a settlement to last year in exchange for her silence.
In his only comment about the case (via a statement through his attorney) Hoyt denied sexually harassing the woman, but admitted to engaging in a “consensual affair” with her.
Meanwhile, questions continue to be raised as why the state wasn't more forthcoming about what was going on when Hoyt abruptly left and how much political hay can be baled from Hoyt's missteps.
Hoyt has close ties to Gov. Cuomo, who is expected to seek re-election in 2018.
Despite being sanctioned several years back for indiscretions with an intern while he was a New York State Assemblyman, Hoyt was tapped by Cuomo to be his chief representative here in Western New York at twice his previous salary.
At a news conference Wednesday afternoon, Erie County Republican Chairman Nick Langworthy was quick to remind reporters of that.
“Sam Hoyt was hired by Andrew Cuomo with a clear record in this area," said Langworthy.
Hoyt was named by Cuomo to head Empire State Development’s regional offices, to help steer Cuomo’s Buffalo Billion initiative. That program has since been rocked by scandal in the form of federal indictments against several principles involved in the construction of the state’s RiverBend facility.
When Empire State Development President Howard Zemsky released a statement acknowledging Hoyt's sudden departure from that agency this past weekend, it never mentioned Hoyt was the subject a sexual harassment claim.
Instead, Zemsky’s statement extolled Hoyt's virtues, without revealing that he might have been forced out — if not fired — for reasons less than virtuous.
By Tuesday, the Governor’s office issued a statement acknowledging that it had been aware of the allegations against Hoyt, but only after his accuser contacted several media outlets.
However, while the statement insisted that "All state employees must act with integrity and respect", some question why was Hoyt kept in his post for 10 months after the complainant claims to have contacted Albany, lodging allegations which were, according to the Governor's office, serious enough to be "immediately referred to the Governor's Office of Employee Relations (GOER) for an investigation."
"The Governor clearly had to know something… if not personally, his senior aides knew and I think they owe an awful lot of answers to the public and the taxpayers of this state," said Langworthy.
The statement from the Governor’s office provides further that “Mr. Hoyt was instructed to have no further interaction with the complainant and to cooperate fully with the investigation. Based on interviews and evidence reviewed, GOER identified information that warranted further review by the Inspector General's Office and referred the matter accordingly. The IG conducted its own investigation, during which repeated attempts to interview the complainant were unsuccessful and the matter was referred to JCOPE for investigation. With the investigation still pending, Mr. Hoyt separated from state service."
Who Knew What and When?
Langworthy further called into question the Governor’s knowledge of the allegations involving Hoyt.
“I don’t believe Sam Hoyt would act without permission of Gov. Cuomo, and if he was going to enter into a settlement of that stature, $50,000 is a big number to buy someone’s silence, and I tend to believe he looked upstairs from his own office for permission to do so,” said Langworthy.
Hoyt did not reply to an e-mail sent Wednesday seeking additional comment, nor did anyone answer the door when we visited his home.
His accuser, who we are not naming, has spoken with WGRZ-TV on several occasions, and has provided documents to bolster her claims, but has thus far declined to appear on camera.