Saturday January 31, 2015
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By Andrea Peyser
January 30, 2015
In the end, it was money, not sex, that brought down New York state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. And that’s a giant slap in the faces of women who’ve toiled long and hard in the state capital in Albany.
“Don’t our lives matter?’’ one female Albany veteran asked me.
Of course not!
Over the decades, Silver, who plans to step down from his powerful post as speaker, likely on Monday, orchestrated payoffs to four women who accused his pals and cronies of sexual harassment or egregious intimate abuse.
But this series of scandals (Silver has been accused of enabling, not committing, sexual offenses) had nothing to do with his fall from grace. This proves that our Legislature remains a sexual sewer.
I’ve been writing about Albany’s naked shenanigans for more than two decades. I’ve detailed the antics prevalent in a swamp that nearly swallowed me whole when I, as an ambitious college intern in the 1980s, was hit on by my married, elected boss, pushed him away — then was fired the next day.
Despite laws meant to curb sexual villainy, despite sensitivity training and warnings to testosterone cases that they’d best keep their hands off junior government staffers, nothing much has changed. Young ladies march daily into the fashion-backward state Capitol building in fuzzy UGG boots, long underwear and circa-1994 Jennifer Aniston-style hairdos, then slip into slinky skirts and painfully high heels.
“There’s a big drinking culture here,’’ an Albany insider, struck by the tender ages of female interns and junior staffers, told me. “There’s not a lot to do. You go to work, you go to a bar. You don’t go to a play or an opera.’’
Silver, a lawyer, announced Tuesday that he was stepping down as speaker, passing his post to an interim leader before an election is held to replace him on Feb. 10. First elected as a Manhattan assemblyman in 1976, Silver has served as speaker since 1994 — which made him the second-most powerful Democrat in the state, after Gov. Cuomo.
After demonstrating the survival skills of a cockroach, Silver, 70, last week was arrested on federal charges of fraud, conspiracy and extortion, accused of lining his pockets with $4 million in kickbacks and bribes. He says he’s innocent and expects to be exonerated, and will not give up his Assembly seat. On Wednesday, the Weitz & Luxenberg law firm that employed Silver asked him to take a leave of absence until the charges against him are resolved.
Charmian Neary was Patient Zero, the woman who first brought the term “sexual harassment’’ into the Albany lexicon. In 1992, she was the star witness in then-Gov. Mario Cuomo’s landmark hearing of the Governor’s Task Force on Sexual Harassment, testifying that, two years earlier, as a dewy-eyed 24-year-old, she was let go from her job as an aide to then-Manhattan Assemblyman Mark Alan Siegel after rebuffing his sexual advances.
Then, in 1995, Silver arranged to pay Neary $85,000 in taxpayer money to settle her civil lawsuit against the Assembly and Siegel.
Siegel, 70, now a lawyer in Florida, told me that “Shelly settled it because the cost of it was less than the cost of defending it.’’ He denied any wrongdoing.
In 2001, Elizabeth Crothers, then 25, accused Silver’s legal counsel, J. Michael Boxley, of date rape. Pressured by Silver not to go to the police, she has told me, an internal Assembly investigation led to her allegations being dismissed. Two years later, Boxley was hauled off in handcuffsl, accused of raping a 22-year-old Assembly staffer. He pleaded guilty to a wrist-slap misdemeanor sexual-misconduct count, registered as a sex offender, was sentenced to serve six years’ probation — but not a minute behind bars. He quit his job.
But the real insult — to taxpayers — came when the victim, who has never made her name public, was paid $507,500, almost all of it in public money, to settle a civil lawsuit against Boxley and Silver. Crothers got nothing.
“Mr. Boxley has no comment on that. That’s something that happened a long time ago,’’ said Steven Greenberg, spokesman for Brown & Weinraub, the Albany firm for which Boxley now works as a lobbyist.
Silver again dipped into state coffers to pay $103,080 to two women who accused former Assemblyman Vito Lopez of groping them. Facing expulsion, Lopez stepped down from his Brooklyn Assembly seat. Silver was reamed out in a 2013 report by the special prosecutor, Staten Island DA Dan Donovan, who wrote that the speaker virtually created Albany’s sexual cesspool, covering his own butt while covering up for sleazebags. He was not punished.
Lopez could not be reached and Silver did not respond to a request for comment. But heed this warning:
Parents, don’t let your daughters grow up to work in Albany.