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Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has named Judge Renee R. Roth to the Joint Commission on Public Ethics. The move comes after the sudden resignation of another of Silver's appointees to the commission.

The ethics panel announced that Pat Bulgaro had submitted his resignation by letter during their meeting yesterday. The panel would not say when the letter was sent and Bulgaro did not give a reason for his departure.

Silver and his appointees on JCOPE have been the subject of intense scrutiny following the Vito Lopez sexual harassment scandal. A number of good government groups and legislators called for JCOPE to investigate Silver's handling of the matter given the fact that Silver settled one complaint against Lopez in secret. Instead, it appears JCOPE looked only at Lopez's behavior.

Silver's appointees could have voted to block an investigation into their boss but JCOPE's actions are not subject to public meeting laws, so only JCOPE knows and they aren't talking.

Silver is supposed to file paperwork declaring any professional or personal relationship he might have with Roth.

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Anthony Weiner said more dirt about his Internet sex life would come out during his mayoral campaign and boy was he right. This week the revelation that Weiner had the sort of online sexual relationships with women that led to his resignation even after he resigned from office forced the Weiner campaign into damage control. The revelations had a major impact in public opinion according to a Marist Pollthat showed his support dropping to 16 percent with his negatives at an all-time-high. Council Speaker Christine Quinn now leads the pack with 25 percent with Public Advocate Bill de Blasio and Bill Thompson at 14 percent. Weiner admitted on Thursday to having three explicit online relationships with women even after he resigned his seat in Congress. Weiner has said he will continue with his campaign.


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Two female Assembly staffers have filed a lawsuit against Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and former Assemblyman Vito Lopez.

The lawsuit claims that Lopez sexually harassed both women and that Silver provided "assistance" that allowed the harassment to continue.

Silver's office reached a secret $103,000 settlement with two former Lopez staffers who accused him of sexual harassment but Silver did not stop Lopez from hiring more female staffers. The two women who Lopez fired have since come forward to detail their harassment and have now filed this suit. They are listed as current employees of the Assembly in the lawsuit.

The Joint Commission on Public Ethics issued a report last month that detailed a littany of alleged sexual misbehavior by Lopez but the panel did not look into Silver's role in keeping them out of public view.

Silver has apologized for his handling of the matter but has dismissed calls for his resignation. Calls to his office have not been returned. The incident has shined a spotlight on Albany's culture of sexual harassment.

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The New York Times reported yesterday that a group of Assembly Republicans headed have called on federal prosecutors to investigate the "scandalous and allegedly criminal enterprises conducted by the Speaker of the Assembly, Sheldon Silver, and his staff."

The group wants an investigation into Silver's handling of sexual harassment cases over the years, including allegations against former Assemblyman Vito Lopez.

The letter, addressed to U.S. Attorney Richard S. Hartunian of the Northern District, alleges: "Silver’s chief legal counsel and his deputy legal counsel violated the state’s sexual harassment policy by refusing to follow the mandatory reporting requirements with the Assembly Ethics Committee even though Silver and his staff originally drafted this compulsory rule."

A spokesman for Silver didn't immediately respond to a request for comment from the Gotham Gazette.

If Hartunian were to investigate, he wouldn't be the only U.S. attorney looking into Albany scandal. Preet Bharara, of the Southern District of New York, has more than a few Albany legislators running scared.

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Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is weathering criticism for his handling of recently-resigned Assemblyman Vito Lopez's harassment suit. In response, he's announced plans to create an independent investigator for sexual harassment complaints and mandatory reporting of them. Many are calling for the speaker's resignation, including one Assemblyman who threatened to leave the Democratic conference if he didn't step down. Silver has apologized for authorizing a secret settlement in Lopez's harassment suit, but says resignation is "ridiculous." The scandal may have weakened his bargaining power, but he has a strong grasp on power in the state. Gov. Cuomo has reportedly decided not to call a special election to replace Lopez to keep him from wielding influence over his successor. The governor also says the harassment scandal proves the need for passage of his women's agenda.

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Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, facing escalating calls for his resignation over the handling of the Vito Lopez sexual harassment scandal, wasted no time today in organizing a cohesive response to beat back criticism.

"Mistakes were made; I deeply regret them," Silver said.

Assembly Democrats met in conference with Silver for a good portion of the day and a little after 4:30 p.m. emerged to unveil a three-pronged strategy to better handle sexual harassment complaints.

Silver said that his office will no longer handle complaints but instead create an independent body called The Assembly Task Force on Sexual Harassment that will have its own budget to take complaints and investigate them.

Secondly, all elected Assemblymembers and senior staff will be considered "mandatory reporters" of sexual harassment.

Silver said those who fail to report incidents will face "immediate sanction."

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo says the ugly sexual harassment scandal surrounding Assemblyman Vito Lopez is the perfect example of why legislators need to pass his 10-point women's agenda.

“I think it would be the height of hypocrisy for a body that just recognized the problem up close and personal within their own colleagues and to not take action,” Cuomo told reporters yesterday.

Cuomo has yet to issue a bill encapsulating all 10 points of the agenda, but it is known to include stiffer penalties for sexual harassment; anti-human trafficking measures; pay equality laws; and a more controversial provision that would encode a women's right to an abortion in state health law rather than in the criminal code.

Barbara Bartoletti of the League of Women Voters echoed Cuomo's sentiments earlier yesterday. "If anyone should be the poster boy for the women's agenda legislation Vito Lopez is it," Bartoletti said.

Bartoletti wants legislators back in Albany next week ready to pass the women's legislation as well as campaign finance reform. Otherwise she said all they will have from this session is "a legacy of scandal."

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Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has faced a chorus of calls for his resignation for his handling of the Assemblyman Vito Lopez sexual harassment scandal. Editorial boards, good government groups and Republican legislators have either demanded Silver step down or hold a leadership vote in the Assembly. A broader chorus is calling for Lopez's resignation.

Silver seems to be paying attention as his spokesman Michael Wyland issued a statement tonight saying that Silver, "intends to draft and introduce a resolution tomorrow, to be voted on Monday, to ask the Ethics & Guidance Committee to consider the full JCOPE report and to recommend appropriate sanctions including expulsion of Assemblymember Lopez."

Silver has called for Lopez to step down several times.

Earlier today Gov. Andrew Cuomo told reporters that if Lopez continues to refuse to resign, "I think the body should expel him. I think they should make a statement that says we do not tolerate this in our house."

Cuomo defended Silver. "I don’t see any comparison between what Vito Lopez and what Shelly Silver did,” Cuomo said. “There is a magnitude of difference," Cuomo said.

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The Assembly and Speaker Sheldon Silver took a shellacking in reports today by Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan and the Joint Commission on Public ethics for their handling of sexual harassment charges against Assemblyman Vito Lopez.

Donovan found that the secretive manner in which initial sexual harassment charges were handled against Lopez only "encouraged" the assemblyman to continue his pattern of harassment. According to JCOPE's report, two staffers who accused Lopez of harassment and filed complaints were moved off Lopez's payroll; Lopez then hired new female staffers and pressured them for intimate relationships.

Silver's office has undoubtedly been fielding a bevy of calls from reporters regarding the findings of both reports.

Silver's spokesman Michael Whyland issued a statement defending his boss saying, "A full review of the facts by both JCOPE and the Special Prosecutor has found that all actions by the Assembly were lawful and there was no basis for an ethics complaint against the Speaker or his staff."

Whyland also used the opportunity to reiterate that Silver has called for Lopez's resignation and still wants him to resign. "Given that the JCOPE investigation has found significant violations of the Public Officers Law by Assemblyman Lopez, Speaker Silver renews his call for him to resign," said Whyland in the statement.

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Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is calling on recently indicted Assemblyman Eric Stevenson to resign. Silver just issued this statement:

Assemblyman Stevenson's alleged actions as outlined by the federal charges against him are a clear violation of the public trust and cannot be tolerated. I believe that given the evidence that has been presented, he should seriously consider whether he can continue to maintain the public trust. I am encouraging him to resign.

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Deal on Paid Sick Leave

The city is set force companies that employ over 15 people to give full-time employees 5 compensated days off a year. The news comes as Council Speaker Christine Quinn who has blocked a vote on paid sick leave for years reached a deal last night with labor and business leaders. The law wouldn't take effect until spring 2014 and for the first 8 months it would only apply to businesses with 20 or more employees. Political pressure mounted on mayoral candidate Quinn over the last few weeks as her opponents and advocates attacked her on her refusal to bring the issue to a vote. Mayor Michael Bloomberg is opposed to paid sick leave and like Quinn has said it will hurt business. The council will have to vote on the legislation and likely override a veto from Bloomberg. “We have a good, strong and sensible piece of legislation that recognizes the needs of everyday New Yorkers and the realities that our struggling small businesses face,” Quinn said in a statement.


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It isn't a complete budget but legislative leaders and Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced what Cuomo called, "a budget agreement in concept." Leaders have agreed to incrementally increase the minimum wage to $9 an hour by 2016, give households with one child or more under 18 who make $40,000-$300,000 a tax rebate of $350 and extend the millionaires tax for three years. There are also $650 million in tax breaks for businesses. The $135 billion budget plan will age three days and be voted on starting Saturday. Although bills began printing last night not every part of the budget is rock solid--distribution of school aid remains undecided, tweaking the city's marijuana laws was not addressed and neither was tweaks to the state's newly-passed gun laws. Other outstanding issues include providing tuition assistance to undocumented immigrants and a deal to criminalize bath salts. Cuomo said that New York City will not see a restoration of $240 million in school aid it lost when the NYC Department of Education and the city's teachers union failed to reach a deal on teacher evaluations but Speaker Sheldon Silver said the money would be made up for through other channels. If lawmakers pass the budget by April 1st it will be the third on-time budget in a row.


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There is no budget deal to report as of this afternoon, but there are a few "tentative" ones the table — or at least floating around the halls of the Capitol.

The first deal would see the state's minimum wage incrementally increased to $9 an hour by 2016. That deal has some mainstream Senate Democrats rankled. Sen. Mike Gianaris told Susan Arbetter of The Capitol Pressroom that Senate Republicans who cut a deal with the Independent Democratic Conference have "outsize" influence in negotiations and that the deal is "half a loaf."

Sen. David Valesky of the Independent Democratic Conference responded in a statement accusing Gianaris of the "type of absolutism that prevented progress in the past."

Now there is word of a deal on marijuana laws. The New York City Council would be allowed to make possesion of small amounts of marijuana in public a ticketable offense rather than an arrestable offense under proposed legislation.

Some upstate legislators are upset that the measure would only impact New York City.

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Assembly Republicans are expressing their dissaproval with Speaker Sheldon Silver's legislation that will increase the minimum wage to $9 an hour at a hearing this afternoon.

Assemblyman Al Graf just got finished noting that this specific bill has no sponsor in the Senate and that it is basically a one-house bill. "All this amounts to is a nice little press release," Graf said. Democratic Keith Wright is the bill's sponsor in the Assembly.

Silver decided to bring the wage increase to a vote today as negotiations over a minimum wage increase continue between the Senate, Governor and Assembly.

Senate Republicans have acknowledged an increase is likely but they want to pair it with tax cuts.

Meanwhile, the breakaway Independent Senate Democrats support a wage hike as well.

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Gun Advocates Swarm Capitol

The Capitol in Albany was swarmed by an estimated 5,000 gun advocates yesterday in a rally organized to protest Gov. Andrew Cuomo's New York Safe Act. The SAFE Act that expanded the definition of assault weapons, banned clips with 7 or more bullets and increased penalties for illegal gun possesion was championed by Cuomo after the shootings in Newtown, Conn.The predominantly male audience carried signs that compared Cuomo to Hitler and chanted "Cuomo's got to go." Many protesters traveled for miles from across the state. Cuomo and legislative leaders have said they do not plan any major changes to the Safe Act besides a few technical corrections. However, one Republican Senator Kathy Marchione has introduced a bill that would repeal most of the SAFE act. The repeal is unlikely to ever come to a vote as Senate Republican leadership supports the SAFE act. The New York Rifle and Pistol Association which organized the protest is working on a legal challenge to the SAFE Act that it plans to file next week.


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Council Votes to Curb Deportations

The City Council overwhelmingly voted for two bills yesterday that will further restrict the city's cooperation with federal immigration authorities in an effort to prevent unnecessary deportations. The laws would stop the city from honoring detainment requests except for immigrants with previous felonies, who are on gang or terrorist watch lists, have outstanding criminal warrants, or have committed misdemeanors such as sexual abuse, gun possession and assault. However, the law would prevent holding immigrants charged or having been found guilty of most misdemeanors. The impact of the laws is unclear as they echo recent guidelines from the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement chair. "Current policy is eroding the trust between immigrants and local law enforcement and that frustrates the stated purpose of ‘Secure’ Communities,” said City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn in a statement. “If immigrants believe that the police will hand them over to immigration authorities, they are less likely to report crimes, and this can only have a negative effect on public safety. We have seen too many families torn apart by current detention and deportation practices


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The National Rifle Association proposed a plan today to position armed men around schools in reaction to the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. New York officials are not pleased with the proposal, judging from their reactions:

The NRA's Washington leadership has long been out of step with its members, and never has that been so apparent as this morning. Their press conference was a shameful evasion of the crisis facing our country. Instead of offering solutions to a problem they have helped create, they offered a paranoid, dystopian vision of a more dangerous and violent America where everyone is armed and no place is safe. Leadership is about taking responsibility, especially in times of crisis. Today the NRA's lobbyists blamed everyone but themselves for the crisis of gun violence. While they promote armed guards, they continue to oppose the most basic and common sense steps we can take to save lives - not only in schools, but in our movie theaters, malls, and streets. Enough. As a country, we must rise above special interest politics. Every day, 34 Americans are murdered with guns. That's why 74 percent of NRA members support common sense restrictions like criminal background checks for anyone buying a gun. It is time for Americans who care about the Second Amendment and reasonable gun restrictions to join together to work with the President and Congress to stop the gun violence in this country. Demand a plan. — Mayor Michael Bloomberg

The NRA’s response to the tragic events in Newtown is deeply disturbing and underscores just how far out of touch they are from reality and the concerns of most Americans. The answer to gun violence on our street corners, in our shopping centers and in our schools is not more guns. The answer is stronger gun laws and a dramatic expansion of mental health services.

New York can and must be a leader in developing a solution. I am hopeful in the coming weeks the Senate will join together with the Assembly and Governor Cuomo to pass meaningful legislation that will begin to change the culture of gun violence in our society. — Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver

Seven days after those teachers and children were murdered in Newtown, Connecticut the NRA has broken their silence. I wish they had kept their mouths shut. All they did today was add more pain and heartache to those Newtown families. Their remarks are some of the most stupid, asinine, insensitive, ridiculous comments I have ever heard made in the public arena. All these remarks tell us is that the NRA does not seem to care about protecting our children. I do not understand how even with all of those little coffins being rolled out in Newtown, that the NRA believes the answer is more guns. All that would have happened if there were armed guards in Sandy Hook Elementary is that we would now have dead armed guards. Why do we need an army style gun in that school, a gun we send to Afghanistan? I think the NRA’s comments today were a clear and blatant attempt to throw salt in the wounds of families who lost their loved ones. As a human being, I am surprised and tremendously disappointed in what the NRA did today. — Council Speaker Christine Quinn

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Attorney General Eric Schneiderman:

Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the innocent victims of today’s horrific massacre. We stand with the people of Connecticut during this moment of unspeakable tragedy.

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Republican Assemblyman Steve Katz is circulating a letter to his colleagues asking them not to reelect Assemblyman Sheldon Silver as Speaker, a position Silver has held since 1994.

"Mr. Silver’s actions in covering the sexual improprieties of Assemblyman Vito Lopez with taxpayer dollars by means of the 'Miscellaneous Contractual Services' account go against everything that we should be united against in a bipartisan manner," Katz writes. "While we may disagree on how to govern, the people of the state of New York deserve to have an open, honest, and transparent government."

Jimmy Vielkind of the Times Union recently documented how Silver and Assembly Democrats dodged any fallout from the Lopez scandal during the elections and actually added seats to their super-majority. It seems unlikely that Katz' effort will come to much but it keeps the scandal alive just a little bit longer. The matter is still reportedly being investigated by JCOPE.

Here is the full letter Katz is circulating among Assembly members:

To My Colleagues in the Assembly:

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You can add one more issue to the pile of things Gov. Andrew Cuomo might get from the legislature in return for agreeing to legislative payraises. Today Cuomo told Fred Dicker of the New York Post that the making the legislature subject to freedom of information laws may be part of a deal for legislative pay raises. Earlier this week Cuomo said he wouldn't consider signing off on payraises until the legislature handles, "the people's business."

That "business" according to Cuomo at the time included hiking the minimum wage and decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana. However, other issues have also been mentioned for a post-election special session, including campaign finance reform. Cuomo discussed why the public might have seen the Assembly's sexual harassment settlement with Assemblyman Vito Lopez's accusers as "secret" and brought up the the FOIL process. Cuomo said:

"If there's no foil you wouldn't get these agreements unless they're voluntarily disclosed so that's a reform agenda I'm saying that we can take up."

Cuomo and his office have had an interesting relationship with FOIL, just ask the Times Union. Cuomo's office has battled with the Times Union over access to his records as AG pertaining to the Troopergate scandal.

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