Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver admitted he was wrong in the secrecy surrounding a more than $100,000 payout to a woman who accused Assemblyman Vito Lopez of sexual harassment earlier this year.
Silver approved the payment of $103,080 in public money to settle claims that the longtime Brooklyn assemblyman harassed at least one female staffer who worked with him.
The details of the secret settlement come after Lopez was censured by the Assembly Friday for allegedly sexually harassing two different women in separate incidences.
But late yesterday, Silver said he realized full public disclosure would have been better than a private payout.
“I now believe it was the wrong one from the perspective of transparency,” Silver said, according to the Associated Press. “I take full responsibility in not insisting that all cases go to the ethics committee.”
Silver said he also regretted approving the confidential settlement, with public money, that kept Lopez’s name shielded.
Going forward, he said there should be open investigations instead that still maintain the victims’ privacy.
As part of the settlement, Lopez was required to attend a sexual harassment workshop. Both sides reportedly signed a confidentiality agreement.
The National Organization for Women (NOW) blasted Lopez as well as Sheldon, accusing the Assembly speaker of using taxpayer money to silence past victims.
“Sheldon Silver is now in the hot seat with Lopez, and he has a lot of explaining to do,” NOW president Sonia Ossorio said.
Lopez denies all the charges, calling them “unfair and untrue. Never did I intentionally touch or attempt to kiss either of the complainants. I have never forced myself on anyone, nor would I.”
"The onslaught of character attacks has put enormous emotional pressures on my family and close friends," he said in a statement. "I cannot sit by and allow that to continue."
He maintained, "I have never sexually harassed any staff, and I hope and intend to prove in the coming months the political nature of these accusations."
He had already been removed as chairman of the powerful Assembly housing committee.
Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz said he was "relieved that he did the right thing."