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Harassment Allegations Against Assemblyman Cause Political Ripple

Allegations Were Issued Against Micah Kellner 4 Years Ago
New York State Capitol in Albany (file / credit: Steve Scott / WCBS 880)

New York State Capitol in Albany (file / credit: Steve Scott / WCBS 880)

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NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — A Brooklyn City Council candidate has called for an investigation into New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan), after another scandal involving his opponent was discovered.

As WCBS 880’s Marla Diamond reported Wednesday, candidate Benjamin Kallos, a Democrat running for the 5th District City Council seat, raised the issue following revelations of a sexual harassment claim four years ago involving Assemblyman Micah Kellner (D-Manhattan), who is running against Kallos for the seat.

Kellner said he deeply regrets an incident with a young female staffer to whom he sent sexually suggestive messages on Facebook back in 2009. The accusation, including 15 pages of transcribed online chats, was reported at the time to longtime Assembly lawyer Bill Collins.

Collins didn’t advance the accusation to the Ethics Committee as required by Assembly policy, according to Silver, and he failed to tell Silver at the time, a spokesman for the speaker said Wednesday.

Silver said he plans to fire the attorney.

The case is the latest in a string of sexual harassment and misconduct cases in the Assembly during the tenure of Silver, who has run the chamber since 1994 and is a powerful figure in Albany. He is still trying to recover from his own mishandling of sexual harassment claims last year against Democratic Assemblyman Vito Lopez of Brooklyn.

Silver used public money to pay a secret $103,000 settlement to the accusers to end charges against Lopez.

“Between Vito Lopez and what’s happened with Assembly Member Kellner, there’s clearly repetitive acts, and (the state Joint Commission on Public Ethics) must investigate and see if Sheldon Silver is responsible,” Kallos said.

For Silver’s part, the speaker “feels the matter should have been handled differently,” spokesman Michael Whyland said.

He said that another assembly member told Silver on June 7 of this year, and Silver referred the case to the chamber’s ethics committee, where it will be handled by private lawyers.

“Neither the speaker nor Assembly central staff will have any role in any investigations,” Whyland said.

A Republican assemblyman also issued a scathing critique Wednesday of Silver’s explanation of the newest case to surface.

“This latest revelation has to be the final straw,” said Assemblyman Kieran Michael Lalor (R-Fishkill.) “Nothing happens in the Assembly without Silver knowing. A staffer took a bullet for Silver and resigned yesterday, but that’s just a cover-up of the cover-up.”

“Silver has repeatedly shielded perpetrators. Each time he turns a blind eye to the defenseless and powerless female staffers. Assembly Democrats and Governor (Andrew) Cuomo need to stop putting party politics and friendships ahead of right and wrong. We’ve had enough, it’s time to boot Silver.”

Kellner, the former assemblyman at the center of the new accusations, issued a statement downplaying what happened.

“Over four years ago, for a few weeks while I was still single, I exchanged instant messages with a female member of my staff that were flirtatious,” Kellner stated. “It was inappropriate. I was wrong and it was stupid. When I was told that my staffer felt the messages were unprofessional, I immediately stopped and regretted placing her in that position. I was sorry then and I am sorry now.”

Silver and Kellner wouldn’t answer questions about the case beyond providing their statements. Cuomo, who heads the Democratic Party, wouldn’t comment.

Whyland said Silver knew of the case June 7. It may have played into the June 21 defeat of nine of Cuomo’s 10 proposals to enhance women’s rights in the work place, crackdown on prostitution and sexual harassment, and to strengthen abortion. After the Senate approved all but the proposal to strengthen the right to late-term abortions, Silver refused to bring the nine proposals to the Assembly floor, citing the will of assemblywomen led by Glick who refused to separate the abortion proposal.

The refusal to accept the nine proposal surprised even Cuomo at the time, and fractured a women’s coalition he organized for the 10-point agenda.

Meanwhile, the revelations about Kellner’s conduct have also led Councilwoman Jessica Lappin (D-5th) to withdraw her endorsement of Kellner as he runs for her seat, according to published reports. Lappin is leaving the City Council and running for Manhattan Borough President.

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(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)