Cuomo issues an ultimatum
In a statement emailed late on New Year's Eve, Governor Andrew Cuomo issued an ultimatum to two lawmakers accused of sexual harassment: immediately deny the charges, or resign.
Cuomo's statement came in response to the latest round of allegations of sexual harassment against two Democratic members of the state Assembly.
Assemblyman Micah Kellner, of Manhattan, was censured by the Assembly's Ethics Committee earlier this week following the committee's investigation into reports he'd harassed a female staffer in 2009.
Earlier this month, Buffalo-area Assemblyman Dennis Gabryszak was accused by four former staff members of harassment.
Cuomo's call echoed his comments after Assemblyman Vito Lopez was accused of similar conduct by his former aides.
“The reaction here should be sure and swift and unequivocal,” Cuomo said. “Resign. If you don’t resign, we’ll expel because we will not allow that to occur in this chamber. Period.”
The Assembly did not vote to expel Lopez, who opted to resign his seat and run (unsuccessfully) for City Council, after he was stripped of his chairmanship by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.
Yesterday, Silver embraced the findings of an ethics panel that investigated the claims against Kellner, removing Kellner as chair of the libraries committee and freezing his allocation to hire staff.
Cuomo's statement on Tuesday called on the Assembly to go even further, and to begin expulsion proceedings against Kellner and Gabryszak if they choose not to resign.
"The latest reports of sexual harassment in the Assembly should be the last straw," Cuomo said in his statement. "This pattern of behavior is repugnant by every standard and directly contradicts the policies the Assembly has advanced for the last 20 years. Assemblymember Micah Kellner's conduct, confirmed by the Assembly Ethics and Guidance Committee's investigation, has no place in New York State government. It is time for him to immediately deny these allegations or resign. Likewise, Assemblymember Dennis Gabryszak must immediately deny the allegations against him or resign. If they do not resign, the Assembly must send a clear message that they do not tolerate this abuse of women and should seriously consider moving to expel them if they seek to return this coming session. Enough is enough. It’s a new year; let’s start with a clean slate," the statement read.
UPDATE: Silver and Kellner each responded with statements. Silver said both assemblymen should "seriously and immediately consider" whether they can continue to represent their constituents, while a spokesman for Kellner said the assemblyman "does not accept" the findings from the ethics panel, or from Silver, and said he plans to appeal.
Here's Silver's statement in full:
"As I have said, this kind of behavior is intolerable. Women and all our staff deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. I believe both members must seriously and immediately consider whether they can continue to represent their constituents effectively given the steps we have already taken in response to these allegations, including reducing their staff resources."
And Kellner's statement, from a spokesman:
"Assembly Member Kellner does not accept the Ethics Committee’s and Speaker Silver's findings. The letter sent by the Committee was factually inaccurate and the investigation was flawed. Assembly Member Kellner will appeal the ruling in accordance with the Assembly’s 2009-2010 Assembly Sexual Harassment Policy, Article VI, mandating that a hearing officer be designated to conduct a public hearing concerning these findings. At a hearing, sworn testimony must be taken from all witnesses permitting the fundamental right to cross examine the accuser and the evidence that exists. Perhaps then the real facts surrounding this matter will be heard."