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With Lopez Gone, Focus Shifts to Silver

10:51 PM, May 20, 2013   |    comments
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By Joseph Spector
Albany Bureau Chief

ALBANY, NY--  Disgraced Assemblyman Vito Lopez resigned Monday morning, but Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver remains under fire for not doing more to curb Lopez's years of alleged sexual harassment of aides.

Some Republicans and many newspapers' editorial boards across New York have called for Silver's ouster as speaker after two reports showed he did little to stop Lopez. The Assembly privately settled harassment complaints last summer against Lopez for $103,000.

"Silver has tolerated corruption for years," Assemblyman Kieran Michael Lalor, R-Fishkill, Dutchess County, said in a statement Friday. "He tolerated and covered for Vito Lopez's misogynistic harassment."

Silver, a Manhattan Democrat and the speaker since 1994, is set to meet behind doors with his Democratic conference Monday afternoon - the first time since the state investigations were released last week.

So far, Assembly Democrats have stood behind Silver, saying he has admitted to mistakes in handling the Lopez case and remains a competent leader.

Silver wields unrivaled power in the Assembly. He doles out committee leadership positions, which come with yearly stipends, and he decides which pieces of legislation gets to the floor for a vote.

"Assembly Democrats should also seize the opportunity to remove Mr. Silver from a leadership post he has occupied since 1994 and is clearly no longer fit to hold," the New York Times said in an editorial Saturday.

Silver has been criticized previously for his handling of sexual misconduct complaints. In 2003, former top aide Michael Boxley pleaded guilty to sexual misconduct - two years after another Assembly staffer accused Boxley of sexual assault without any action by the Assembly. The Assembly ended up paying part of a $500,000 settlement against Boxley.

Silver and Assembly Democrats planned to proceed with the expulsion of Lopez, but he resigned first.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo had called for Lopez's ouster, but he has said it is up to the Assembly to choose its leader. On Saturday, after Lopez announced he would resign, Cuomo's spokeswoman said the Assembly needs to tighten its rules to root out any sexual harassment.

"Now we must do everything we can to ensure this type of behavior is never tolerated or allowed to occur again," said spokeswoman Melissa DeRosa.

Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, R-Canandaigua, Ontario County, hasn't called for Silver's removal - even as members of his conference have done so, as well as the state Republican Committee.

Kolb has ripped the process, although not Silver.

"The process by which this has been handled has been riddled with delays, missteps and decisions that have eroded the public trust," Kolb said in a statement Friday.

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