Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers, said during a public radio interview Thursday that persistent reports of sexual harassment against women in the Legislature are “disturbing” and “intolerable.”
“It’s absolutely disturbing to hear, day after day, a variety of different things that have happened,” Stewart-Cousins said on “The Capitol Pressroom”. “And look, I think that it’s pretty clear that this has been, in many ways, in the Legislature, an ongoing situation.”
Stewart-Cousins, the first woman to lead a legislative conference in Albany, said that New York Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, a Democrat who once worked as a staffer at the Capitol, was shocked that Stewart-Cousins was elected leader, given her gender.
This year, the Capitol was rocked by scandals, some surrounding bribery and corruption and others involving sexual misconduct.
Now resigned Assemblyman Vito Lopez, D-Brooklyn, was accused in a detailed report of sexually harassing and inappropriately touching several female employees, and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, has been blasted for quietly settling the matter with two victims.
And past allegations against another Assembly Democrat came out this week. The New York Times reported that an Assembly lawyer failed to investigate claims that Assemblyman Micah Kellner, D-Manhattan, harassed a female staffer over the Internet. Silver told the Times he plans to fire the attorney, Bill Collins.
Stewart-Cousins said the string of sex scandals highlight the need for the Women’s Equality Act, a controversial piece of legislation that failed this legislative session amid disagreement over an abortion component. The bill also expanded sexual harassment protections for women in the workplace.
“The reality is that we are at this point now that there is an awareness that behavior like this is intolerable,” Stewart-Cousins said.
“These behaviors are intolerable,” she stressed. “They won’t be tolerated. It’s not acceptable. This culture cannot continue to exist.”