This week saw not one, but two state lawmakers find themselves in the middle of a scandal.
Queens State Senator Shirley Huntley turned herself over to authorities on Monday to face charges that she tried to cover up the theft of $30,000. Huntley allegedly wrote false, backdated letters to try and fool investigators into thinking that the money she allocated through legislature member items was used for seminars conducted by her Parent Workshop charity.
Instead, according to the charges, the money was pocketed by Huntley’s niece and the group’s president, and the seminars never took place.
This is another aspect of Albany politics that has become all too common: elected officials setting up fake nonprofits that in turn hire family and friends so they can essentially be put on the state’s payroll, paid on the taxpayer’s dime.
Is it any wonder that Governor Andrew Cuomo wanted to end the practice of member items in the state’s budget, seeing as how they are regularly abused by elected officials?
And then there is the case of Assemblyman Vito Lopez of Brooklyn, who was stripped of his Housing Committee chairmanship, after allegations that he sexually harassed two female employees were found by an Assembly Ethics Committee to be founded.
For his part, Lopez has denied all of the allegations, and criticized Speaker Sheldon Silver for acting so quickly to punish him.
But as this case unravels, it turns out that this might not have been the first time that Lopez is facing such charges. According to various reports, the state settled with another woman, who many believe also accused Lopez of harassing her.
The bill for that indiscretion: $103,000.
All paid for by the taxpayers.
If indeed true, the fact that Assembly leadership was willing to cover up allegations against Lopez and chose to instead settle the matter with taxpayer money shows just how deep-rooted the attitude that when you get sent to Albany you are essentially above the law really is.
If indeed true, Lopez shouldn’t be criticizing Silver, he should be thanking him for giving him a second chance.
Both Lopez and Huntley should seriously consider resigning, but they won’t. We’re sure that in their own minds they can rationalize their actions. They probably feel that they did nothing wrong, or that they even acted in a manner that was unbecoming of a public servant elected to hold office.
In that case, it will be up to the voters. Soon, we’ll see how the charges against Huntley resonate with her constituents, as she finds herself in a three-way Democratic Primary on September 13.
The case of Lopez is a little murkier.
As former head of the Kings County Democratic Party, Lopez is entrenched in Brooklyn politics. While he has been under fire recently and his list of critics is steadily growing, he also has a lot of allies, so we’ll see if he can weather this most recent controversy.
What is clear is that Albany is in dire need of some new blood.