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The Telegram
  • Cuomo: Scandals in Albany could harm Legislature

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  • ALBANY (AP) — New York’s new legislative session will kick off under a lingering cloud of scandals involving lawmakers, prompting concern from Gov. Andrew Cuomo that people will lose faith in the state Legislature.
    “The Legislature as a whole — the trust is eroding by this drip, drip, drip of bad acts, scandals, et cetera. It erodes the public trust. If you erode the public trust, you erode the capacity of government,” Cuomo told reporters Monday at the state Capitol.
    Cuomo delivers his State of the State address Wednesday to begin the 2014 session of the state Legislature. The speech comes as Buffalo-area Assemblyman Dennis Gabryszak is being accused by six former and current employees of harassing them, the latest in a string of legislative sex harassment cases and public corruption scandals in recent years.
    The harassment cases have centered on the state Assembly, where Democratic Speaker Sheldon Silver continues to face criticism for using $103,000 in public money for a secret settlement to end sex harassment claims against Vito Lopez, a former Democratic assemblyman from Brooklyn. Lopez, who resigned last year, has denied sexually harassing anyone.
    In recent notices of claim against Gabryszak, he is accused of grabbing one woman and trying to kiss her and of telling another during a 2012 event that, “You’re so hot, you know what I want to do with you.” The notices are the first step toward a lawsuit.
    Gabryszak’s lawyer, Terrence Connors, said his client will defend himself against the civil litigation and seek the remedies available to him in the Legislature.
    “We intend to address these allegations in the appropriate forum, which is either the civil litigation or the ethics hearings,” Connors said.
    In a separate case, the Assembly ethics committee said last week that its investigation showed Democratic Assemblyman Micah Kellner of Manhattan violated the house’s sexual harassment policy by making inappropriate comments to staff members in 2009 and 2011. Kellner denies the accusations against him and said he would appeal the committee’s finding.
    There also have been numerous lawmakers in both the Assembly and the state Senate in recent years charged in federal public corruption investigations.
    In the state Senate, Sen. Malcolm Smith of Queens and Sen. John Sampson of Brooklyn, former leaders of the Senate’s Democratic Conference, pleaded not guilty last year to federal charges and kept coming to Albany. Both have case conferences scheduled this month.
    Cuomo said Monday that the string of scandals point to the need to systemic reforms. The governor appointed an anti-corruption commission that recommended last month that public money be used to fund political campaigns.
    Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group said he agreed with Cuomo that a system-wide change is needed but said the governor needs to put his political capital behind the reforms to get them through.
    Page 2 of 2 - “We would argue that the governor has to make fixing Albany a legislative litmus test for the session,” Horner said. “That’s what the bully pulpit is for.”

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