Gov. Cuomo said Friday there would be an investigation into allegations that Bronx state Sen. Jeffrey Klein forcibly kissed a staffer — a day after the Senate leader said the institution wouldn’t conduct its own probe.
Former Senate staffer Erica Vladimer this week said Klein, leader of the breakaway Independent Democratic Conference that leads the Senate with the Republicans, forcibly kissed her outside an Albany bar in 2015. Klein has denied the allegation.
"I immediately called for an independent investigation. There is going to be an independent investigation and I think we should wait and see should wait to see what that investigation says,” Cuomo told reporters Friday.
The day before, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, a Republican, said there wouldn’t be such an investigation in the Senate.
“At this point, this is an allegation in which no formal complaint was ever made,” Flanagan said. “While it may be within the scope of other entities, an investigation into this matter is not within the jurisdiction of the Senate.”
Sources note that the Senate in 2009 created a special committee to investigate, and ultimately expel, Sen. Hiram Monserrate after he was found guilty of a misdemeanor tied to him slashing his girlfriend's face. Flanagan served on that committee.
The investigation Cuomo has called for would likely be conducted by the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, the state's lead ethics enforcement agency. Klein sent a letter to JCOPE leaders Thursday asking for a probe.
A JCOPE spokesman declined to comment on any possible investigation of Klein but has noted that the commission has investigated previous sexual harassment allegations involving lawmakers.
While Cuomo said he would await an investigation’s findings, others have called on Klein to step down — including a coalition of women led by anti-IDC group True Blue NY who took the City Hall steps today.
“Senator Klein is refusing to listen. He impugns Erica’s character to protect his own. This is not the behavior of a leader and he can certainly no longer remain a lawmaker,” said Heather Stewart of Empire State Indivisible.
Politicians accused of sexual harassment or assault
Among those attending was Jessica Ramos, a former de Blasio staffer who is running to unseat IDC member state Sen. Jose Peralta.
“We stand for our progressive values in believing the victim until the investigation goes through,” she said. “So far every single thing that the IDC has done in response to this has come right out of the Republican playbook.”
Sen. Diane Savino, a member of the IDC and Klein’s girlfriend, dismissed the event as a stunt.
"The organizer of the rally, True Blue NY, was literally founded to end the IDC so it's pretty clear that calls for resignation have more to do with politics than anything else,” she said.
The Working Families Party — which has advocated for a Democratic-controlled Senate — called on Klein to be removed from his leadership post pending an investigation and ripped his response to the accusations, saying “attempting to discredit the former employee who accused him was unacceptable.”
“Based on that conduct and the seriousness of the charges, the WFP calls on both the IDC and the Senate to remove him from his leadership posts until the investigation is completed,” spokesman Dom Leon-Davis said.
Klein, meanwhile, circulated a short letter signed by 23 women saying he’d been a gentlemen to them.
“We fully support the brave women that have come forward in this historic moment to bring sexual misconduct to the forefront of our national conversation,” the letter read. “Although we cannot comment on the specific facts of the allegation, we believe the conduct ascribed to Senator Klein is thoroughly at odds with our experience as women working with him as well as his strong support for women’s rights across New York and particularly in the 34th Senate District.” With Kenneth Lovett and Glenn Blain
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