Investigate an Accused Ally? New York Senate’s Republican Leader Says No


ALBANY — The state capital was riven on Thursday by a bevy of calls from various quarters for an investigation of Senator Jeffrey D. Klein, the powerful Senate leader accused of forcibly kissing a former staffer and the most significant figure accused of sexual harassment here in years.

But the Republican leader of the Senate, John J. Flanagan of Long Island, said that any investigation would not come from his chamber. The Senate, he said, has no mechanism to investigate Mr. Klein, his longtime political partner who leads a rogue group of eight Democratic senators, the Independent Democratic Conference, or I.D.C., who usually vote with the Republicans to create a majority.

“At this point, this is an allegation in which no formal complaint was ever made,” said Mr. Flanagan, in a statement. “While it may be within the scope of other entities, an investigation into this matter is not within the jurisdiction of the Senate.”

Mr. Flanagan’s decision came even as Albany continued to reel with both the scandal — quickly supplanting the arrest of a Democratic assemblywoman earlier this week — and a sense that the national reckoning about sexual harassment had finally arrived in the state capital, and right in the middle of its odd power-sharing arrangement.

“Time is up in Albany, too,” said Sonia Ossorio, the president of the state chapter of the National Organization for Women, referring to the new #TimesUp movement, which seeks to fight sexual harassment.

Mr. Ossorio was one of several people pushing for an independent investigation in the wake of an allegation — first outlined in HuffPost on Wednesday — from a former lawyer on Mr. Klein’s staff, Erica Vladimer. Ms. Vladimer, 30, said that Mr. Klein had kissed her against her will outside an Albany bar in spring 2015, while his staff was celebrating the end of the state budget season.

“All of a sudden there was a hand on the back of my head and he shoved his tongue down my throat,” she said. Ms. Vladimer left her job shortly after the alleged incident, and said she had spoken out “to help the women who might have been in a similar situation.”

Mr. Klein, who represents portions of the Bronx and Westchester County, has strenuously denied that the episode occurred, preemptively holding a conference call with reporters on Wednesday alongside his girlfriend, Senator Diane J. Savino, of Staten Island, another member of the I.D.C.

Ms. Savino also denied Ms. Vladimer’s allegations. Mr. Klein commissioned a memo from his lawyers outlining their case, accusing Ms. Vladimer of drinking that night and acting peculiarly, something they said was evidenced by the young woman inviting Mr. Klein over that night for a Seder dinner.

Things quickly escalated. Ms. Vladimer, now a budget and policy analyst with the City of New York, responded on Thursday with a lengthy Facebook post saying that “Sen. Klein abused his power by violating my body, and ultimately my mind and soul.”

She added that her experiences in Albany’s culture of sexual harassment were “more insidious than this one moment in time with this one man,” and called for “laws protecting staff from becoming victims.”

“But legislation and rules can only go so far,” Ms. Vladimer wrote. “It’s time to hold our elected officials accountable.”

At the same time, however, what was emerging was another age-old truth about Albany: It takes a lot to change the status quo, particularly where ethics are concerned. As Mr. Flanagan’s statement suggested, there were other possible avenues to investigate Mr. Klein, but none seemed likely to act quickly or, critics said, effectively to address sexual harassment.

“It’s pretty clear that Albany needs an independent ethics watchdog,” said Blair Horner, the executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group. “And we don’t have one.”

Indeed, one of the principal groups charged with overseeing and policing legislators’ behavior — the Joint Commission of Public Ethics, or JCOPE — has been faulted in the past for lacking investigative muscle and proper funding. On Thursday, a spokesman for the commission, Walter McClure, said he could not comment on “anything that is or may be an investigative matter,” though he noted that the commission has issued investigations of sexual harassment in the past, including former Assemblyman Dennis Gabryszak, who was found to have made sexual advances toward women who worked in his office. (That investigation’s findings, however, were issued almost two years after Mr. Gabryszak had resigned.)

Sexual misbehavior is hardly a new phenomenon in Albany, where lawmakers once bragged about the “Bear Mountain Compact,” an assertion that extramarital liaisons north of the Bear Mountain Bridge, a Hudson River crossing north of New York City, were not to be spoken about in home districts.

In 2012, the Democrat-dominated State Assembly was rocked by the unsavory acts of Assemblyman Vito J. Lopez, a powerful Brooklyn Democrat, who had sexually harassed female staff members. As recently as November, a Republican assemblyman, Steven T. McLaughlin, was disciplined for sexual harassment, after an investigation found he had asked a female Assembly staff member for naked pictures of herself.

The Lopez episode led the Assembly to enact a series of reforms, including mandatory reporting of any complaint of sexual harassment and a ban on confidential settlements, proposals also being suggested by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and other lawmakers this year.



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