Albany’s message to women

Albany has shot yet another hole into its credibility with the handling of sexual harassment claims against Assemblyman Vito Lopez.

A special prosecutor is investigating Lopez for multiple accusations of unwanted sexual advances. Lopez denies the claims, which seem to be multiplying.

The public would have known before about these serious charges against Lopez, but Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver kept quiet on a settlement- which included the disbursement of public funds- on two of these claims, instead of reporting them to an ethics committee.

Recent reports revealed that there was also communication about the case between Silver’s offices and those of the state comptroller and attorney general.

As usual, the public was the last to know. Leaders in Albany decide what information should be shared or kept secret. It makes one wonder what else we are not being told.

Even worse, this gross failure in transparency sends the wrong message to women workers.

Sexual harassment is illegal. Lawmakers know this. In fact, they are supposed to introduce bills that improve the lives of people and protect their rights, including those of women.

A woman who is intimidated by an elected official has the right to bring her accusations forward. Taxpayers and voters should be aware of possible ethics and legal issues involving their representatives. But this latest scandal signals that boys will circle around their boys and that power comes before the people.

This is unacceptable, which is why the investigations into Lopez and the process around the settlement are needed.

Real accountability is critical and would send a strong message. But what is also clear is that changing the culture of secrecy in Albany has to go hand-in-hand with changing those who propagate it.