Something rotten in New York

We normally focus on political news at the national level here, but every once in a while a story congeals like scum on the surface of a state level pond which merits attention. Such is the case in New York State this summer. The tale actually began a while back, when an investigation into the , er… “affairs” of State Assemblyman Vito Lopez (D-Brooklyn) determined that he had sexually harassed two young, female staffers, leading to his censure on the Assembly floor. And if the story had stopped there it would hardly be unusual enough in Big Apple politics to merit a column.

But that event turned out to be the the pebble which started a series of ripples across the pond. Now we find out from the Wall Street Journal that more ethics investigations are underway, this time into the involvement of the Assembly Speaker, Sheldon Silver. It seems that Shelly didn’t want to bother the busy folks on the ethics committee when he first caught wind of this story and decided to settle things the old fashioned way.

Two groups filed a formal complaint Wednesday asking New York state’s ethics enforcement agency to investigate state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s handling of sexual-harassment complaints against a high-ranking lawmaker.

The National Organization for Women and Common Cause, a government transparency group, submitted the formal complaint, calling for a probe into Mr. Silver’s approval of a secret $100,000 taxpayer-funded payment to settle accusations by female employees against Assemblyman Vito Lopez.

That’s just lovely, isn’t it? In a state that’s already going broke, 100,000 taxpayer dollars get diverted to a secret slush fund to pay off the women in an attempt to keep Vito safe and sound in Brooklyn.

If you don’t live in New York, you might not be familiar with that name, but he’s a legend around here. The Republicans traditionally control the state senate (by a razor thin margin) but it’s not “the Democrats” who control the Assembly… it’s Sheldon Silver. And he’s held that body in lock-down for nearly two decades. He’s the most powerful Democrat in the state – even more so than the Governor, according to many accounts.

But wait… the trail of nasty deeds doesn’t stop there! Oh no, the state Attorney General had to get in on the act as well. Michael Goodman reports:

Meanwhile, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is trying to wiggle out of any responsibility for the secret payout. That won’t be easy because an e-mail trail shows his office helped Silver craft the agreement and the confidentiality clause.

It counts as big news that the Attorney General’s Office played any role in conspiring to hide from taxpayers such seedy deals. Are there other cases we should know about?

Why yes, Michael, there are. The DA in Brooklyn, Charles Hynes, had apparently been stonewalling any investigation into Vito’s dirty laundry until recently. It’s only now, with the full light of day shining on these activities and public pressure mounting that the investigation has been turned over to the Republican Staten Island DA, Dan Donovan.

New York City and Albany Democrats are currently fleeing like cockroaches when the kitchen light is switched on. It will be interesting to see how much further this one goes up the food chain, particularly this close to an election. Does this mean some of these seats are going to be switching over to the GOP column? Don’t kid yourself. This is New York. Charlie Rangel still has a job here, for Pete’s sake.