Questions are surfacing after Sam Hoyt’s abrupt departure from a top state government post in Buffalo early this week.
• Why did Hoyt's boss, Howard A. Zemsky, applaud Hoyt’s record when investigations were under way over allegations that Hoyt had sexually harassed a state employee?
• Why did Hoyt, a close official and political operative of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, “separate from state service” at the Empire State Development Corp. only this week when a probe of his romantic relationship with the a fellow state employee began months ago?
• Were Hoyt's superiors aware of a $50,000 settlement that he paid the state employee in return for her silence and a promise to not seek legal recourse?
• Is the payoff a violation of any state policy?
State officials had no answers Wednesday. In fact, they did not even field the questions.
Zemsky’s representatives at the Empire State Development Corp. did not return several phone calls or emails.
The questions follow revelations Tuesday that the former state employee (whose name has been withheld by The Buffalo News) received the settlement after a brief relationship. She said she wanted to end it but that Hoyt pursued her. Hoyt said that he ended it.
Erie County Republican Chairman Nicholas A. Langworthy raised the same questions to reporters Wednesday at GOP Headquarters.
“I find it very hard to believe that the governor was unaware that Sam Hoyt had these problems,” Langworthy said. “The governor clearly had to know something. If not him personally, than certainly his senior aides.”
Though she worked in a separate arm of state government than Hoyt, the woman told The News on Tuesday she was so angry at the official explanation for Hoyt’s resignation that she broke the agreement to vent her frustration.
She cited Zemsky’s laudatory comments of Hoyt as the impetus for her first public disclosure of the settlement she said stemmed from sexual harassment.
Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, who joined Zemsky on Monday in applauding Hoyt for his service when news of his departure broke, clarified her position Wednesday. She issued a statement indicating she was unaware of any questionable circumstances when initially asked about Hoyt’s departure.
“I was not aware of the circumstances of his departure,” she also told The News, adding she is “not privy to internal investigations of state employees.”
“We have zero tolerance for sexual harassment in the work place in the State of New York,” she said.
Hoyt’s sudden exit from his $157,000-a-year post is spilling into the political arena, just days before countywide elections and as Cuomo begins planning his own re-election bid in 2018.
Langworthy raised questions about whether Cuomo was involved and what knowledge his administration possessed of the confidential settlement Hoyt attorney Terrence M. Connors negotiated with the woman.
“They tried to pull a fast one,” he added about the official statements on the resignation, indicating New Yorkers knew nothing about the state probe of Hoyt until reporters broke the story Tuesday.
“I have a sneaking suspicion a helluva lot of this had to do with the hubbub about Harvey Weinstein as the governor heads into an election year,” Langworthy said, referring to revelations about the movie mogul’s alleged sexual improprieties contributing to a new awareness of the problem.
Hoyt, 55, who served almost 20 years in the Assembly before taking over Cuomo’s regional economic development efforts in 2011, on Monday said he was leaving government service to consider possible private sector opportunities, though nothing had been finalized.
Hoyt said that he was the one who broke off the relationship and released this statement Tuesday:
“I have made many mistakes in my life. Having a consensual and inappropriate relationship with ... was wrong and something I regret.
“That said, what she has accused me of is categorically untrue. When I attempted to end the relationship she threatened me. At that point, over a year ago, my wife and I agreed to a settlement to avoid public embarrassment to our family.
“I am not certain why she has chosen to make these accusations today, but they are simply untrue.”
The woman described their initial relationship as “flirty,” and that she and Hoyt kissed “three or four times.”
But she said their relationship did not advance beyond that stage, and that by August of 2016 she wished for him to leave her alone.
She said she has had no contact with Hoyt since signing the document last year.
Hoyt in 2009 was disciplined by the Assembly for an inappropriate relationship with a legislative intern.
After The News reported Monday in its web edition that Hoyt was leaving his state post, Zemsky issued a statement pointing to his former employee’s long government service.
“I’ve had the pleasure of working with Sam on the Buffalo turnaround, during which he played a key role,” Zemsky said. “Sam loves Buffalo, and Buffalo loves Sam, and I’m sure the next chapter in his career will be a very successful one.”
Cuomo's office on Wednesday evening released a brief statement on the matter.
"As we previously said, when made aware of these allegations, we ordered investigations by three separate entities - two of which still have ongoing inquiries - and Mr. Hoyt was ordered to have no contact with the complainant. With these investigations still pending, he left state service," Dani Lever, the governor's press secretary, said in the statement.