10:55 am Aug. 28, 2012
After the governor, both United States senators, two members of Congress, and all five candidates for mayor had called for Assemblyman Vito Lopez to resign from his legislative and party positions, the assemblyman and presumptive congressman Hakeem Jeffries added his voice to the chorus, sort of.
"These allegations are deeply disturbing," said Jeffries spokeswoman Lupe Todd, in a statement this morning. "The workplace must be free of harassment and predatory behavior. If true, Assemblyman Jeffries believes the allegations should yield severe consequences beyond those already imposed, such as further investigation and removal."
The allegations against Lopez, the Brooklyn Democratic leader, include verbal and sexual harassment against two female employees, and led to his formal censure on Friday by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who stripped Lopez of his chairmanship of the Housing Committee and all his seniority in the Assembly.
On Friday and again on Monday, as other elected officials were calling for Lopez to go, a spokeserson for Jeffries declined several requests for comment. Unlike some of the more strident calls for Lopez to resign, Jeffries' statement was attributed to a spokesperson and did not mention resignation. (Lopez has proclaimed his innocence and has said he will not resign.)
Jeffries, a cautious climber, has always navigated the Lopez dynamic delicately, balancing his broad calls for reform in the county party with specific praise for Lopez.
In June, Jeffries won a landslide victory in the congressional primary to replace retiring Rep. Ed Towns, in part by unifying support from the borough's anti-Lopez reform faction, and from the county organization controlled by Lopez.
"I’ve worked closely with Chairman Lopez in his capacity as the leading affordable-housing proponent in the legislature, and no one can deny that he has been the most effective voice on behalf of working families and senior citizens who are trying desperately to remain in gentrifying communities," Jeffries told me in October of last year, when he was just beginning an exploratory campaign to topple Rep. Ed Towns, a longtime incumbent and sworn enemy of Lopez.
Even before his censure last week, Jeffries' close ties to Lopez—who was reportedly under federal investigation—were one of the chief criticisms offered by Jeffries' primary opponent, City Councilman Charles Barron, who called Lopez one of Jeffries' "two daddies." (The other daddy in that formulation is Andrew Cuomo, with whom Jeffries has a notably good relationship.)
But Jeffries maintained good relations with the reformers, too.
He recently endorsed one of Lopez's most outspoken opponents, Lincoln Restler, for district leader, but Jeffries skipped Restler's big press conference, communicating his support after the fact, in a statement emailed to a lone reporter.
Jeffries' conditional, passively voiced call for Lopez to resign could turn out to be significant.
Jeffries' victory against Barron confirmed his potential as a rising star; it also made him the unquestioned leader of a certain bloc of young officials in central Brooklyn, most of whom have adopted a similar pro-reform, but not anti-Vito, line.
His call could give cover to those officials and district leaders to make similar calls, in much the same way that Rep. Jerrold Nadler's immediate call for Lopez's resignation (without so much as an "if") may have provided cover for the mayoral candidates.