UPDATE – Saturday, May 18:
Lopez submitted a terse, one-sentence letter to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver on May 18, setting 9 a.m. on Monday, May 20 as the time his resignation would become effective. Lopez had originally planned to resign as of June 20, but pushed forward the move when it became clear that the Assembly would not wait. — Helen Klein
Scandal-plagued Assemblymember Vito Lopez of Brooklyn announced on Friday that he would resign his seat within the month, effective June 20. However, rather than withdraw completely from public office, Lopez said that he will now seek election to the City Council seat being vacated by Councilmember Diana Reyna, who represents the 34th Council District.
The news of his intention to continue to seek public office triggered a near-universal outcry by state and city lawmakers who maintain that he is not fit for office following ongoing accusations of physical and verbal sexual harassment of female staffers.
“There should be a zero tolerance policy when it comes to sexual harassment and we must now send a clear message that this behavior is not tolerated,” said Governor Andrew Cuomo. “Vito Lopez should not spend another day in office, let alone a whole month. He should resign effective immediately and if he does not, he must be expelled.”
On Thursday, May 16, a state ethics panel called the Joint Commission on Public Ethics issued a report accusing Lopez of violating three provisions of the Public Officers Law, while also accusing Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and his staff of protecting Lopez and failing to conduct any investigation into accusations of wrongdoing.
The ethics report came on the heels of a decision by a special prosecutor that Lopez would not face criminal charges for the sexual harassment accusations
Such opposition does not seem to phase the 71-year-old veteran politician and former chairperson of the Kings County Democratic Party, who won re-election in 2012 despite the sexual harassment allegations and censure by the State Assembly.
According to The New York Times, Lopez called the ethics report “salacious and sensational claims.”
Despite the charges against him and the dismantling of his reputation, Lopez is still a well-known figure in the North Brooklyn and Queens neighborhoods he represents, and he may stand a chance to win the Council seat.
“He should reconsider running for the City Council and step down as District Leader,” said Frank Seddio, who replaced Lopez as chair of the Kings County Democratic Party. “He best serves the Bushwick and Ridgewood neighborhoods he’s worked so hard to build up by stepping back from political life completely. He should not let personal ambition stand in the way of their continued progress.”
Councilmember Stephen Levin, who represents Williamsburg, Greenpoint, Brooklyn Heights, Boerum Hill and Park Slope, concurred, noting that the report’s “findings detail behavior that is disturbing, indefensible, and constitutes a breach of the public trust. . . Sexual harassment is unacceptable under all circumstances and I do not tolerate it.”
Should Lopez indeed run for Reyna’s Council seat, then at least one of his opponents has some thoughts.
Antonio Reynoso, a Williamsburg native and Reyna’s former chief of staff, said in a statement that “By virtue of his repeated sexual misconduct and criminal activity, Vito Lopez clearly does not deserve to hold public office.
“Criminals, serial harassers and sexual predators don’t get to call their own shots on when they go to jail,” said Reynoso. “The bottom line is this: a publicly condemned criminal does not deserve the public trust, nor the privilege of representing Brooklyn and Queens in the City Council or the State Assembly. He must drop his campaign immediately, and begin looking for ways to right the wrongs he has inflicted on the people of this city.”