Assemblyman Vito Lopez, leader of the Brooklyn Democratic Party, was censured Friday for allegedly sexually harassing two female Assembly employees.
The rare decision to publicly rebuke the Brooklyn Democrat was made by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who wrote in a letter that Lopez's alleged actions violated the chamber's Sexual Harassment/Retaliation policy.
According to Silver's letter, the incidents involving the two women occurred from early June to late July and "escalated over a period of time."
The letter gives details of several instances of alleged sexual misconduct by Lopez including inappropriate touching of a woman's knee and upper thigh as well as an unwanted sexual advance made by the Brooklyn Democrat during a trip to Atlantic City in July.
“I believe they are not true and they are unfounded and I disagree with the process," Lopez told the Daily News' Daily Politics blog.
In the wake of the censure, several elected officials called on Lopez to immediately resign from both the Assembly and his position as head of the Brooklyn Democrats.
“There must be zero tolerance of sexual harassment in all workplaces, always," said Council Speaker Christine Quinn. "Because of the seriousness of these findings, Vito Lopez should immediately resign from office and step down as chair of the Brooklyn Democratic Party.”
According to a political insider, even if Lopez were to resign from his Assembly seat, borough District Leaders would still have to reach a consensus to force him out as Brooklyn Democratic chairman.
Joining Quinn in calling for Lopez to resign were Assemblyman Jim Brennan, Congressman Jerry Nadler and 50th Assembly District Leader Lincoln Restler, who has waged a campaign to dislodge the current leadership of the Brooklyn Democratic Party.
“It’s shocking to believe one of my colleagues would behave in such an inappropriate way,” Assemblywoman Joan Millman said, who added that the Assembly Ethics Committee voted 8 to 0 to rebuke Lopez. “It’s upsetting as a female that a male legislator would act this way.”
, the female Democratic leader in the 57th Assembly District, who is running to replace Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries in Albany, also called for his resignation, saying on NY1's Inside City Hall that the allegations are "extremely troubling, as it relates to, not only women, but the atmosphere and the environment that we create in the workplace."
"With that said," she added, "provided the allegations are true, yes, I think he should leave."
Alabi's opponent in the race, , the male Democratic leader in the 57th Assembly District, said on NY1 that the allegations are "grave and serious ... with some equally serious consequences affiliated with them" and that he would "hold off on making any public comments" until the borough district leaders met to discuss the issue.
Another Democratic challenger, Martine Guerrier, also called on Lopez to resign.
First elected in 1984, Lopez has represented his north Brooklyn district in the Assembly for 14 terms.
Over the course of the intervening decades, Lopez emerged as a leading voice in the party through his chairmanship of the influential Committee on Housing.
Silver's decision to censure strips Lopez of his post as chairman and takes away his seniority.
As the fallout from the allegations continued to gain steam, Lopez's girlfriend, Angela Battaglia, provided a rare line of defense for the embattled Democratic boss.
“I know Vito really well and they are the most aggregious [sic] false charges I could ever imagine in my 60 years of life," Battaglia told the News.
Will Yakowicz, Leah Novak, Amy Sara Clark and Zach Haberman contibuted reporting.