Assemblyman Michael Cole was summoned before a panel of his peers Wednesday to explain why he spent the night in the Albany apartment of a 21-year-old female intern -- a violation of a new Capitol taboo.
Cole, an Alden Republican elected just over a year ago, acknowledges he made a "terrible error in judgment" after walking the intern home from an Albany sports bar April 16. But he said nothing inappropriate occurred, and he spent the night on the woman's floor after he felt he was too drunk to drive.
As a result, the Assembly Ethics Committee is now weighing whether to impose sanctions on him for violating the policy.
"As wrong as it sounds now, at the time I didn't think it was such a bad decision to sleep there, being that I was incapable of driving," Cole said. "But it was. I should have taken a cab home.
"At no point in time did anything inappropriate occur, nor has anything been alleged," he added.
Cole says he now realizes he may have violated a strict rule prohibiting socialization between members and staff with interns.
"I couldn't be more embarrassed that I placed myself and my family in this situation," he said. "For that, I am truly sorry. It will not happen again."
He said the intern was later fired, but he could not comment further because of limitations placed on him by the Ethics Committee.
Cole, 35, is married with two children.
The assemblyman explained he attended a function in Legends, an Albany sports bar, to watch a playoff game between the Buffalo Sabres and New York Islanders. The gathering stemmed from a series of e-mails sent by Assemblyman Sam Hoyt, D-Buffalo, who said he issued the invitations to several Western New Yorkers.
Hoyt said he did not invite any interns and was unaware one was there.
Cole, meanwhile, said he did not invite the intern, who worked for another minority member of the Assembly. He said the intern was sitting at his table in Legends, and he now realizes even that amount of fraternization could prove a violation of Assembly policy.
The assemblyman said he left the bar at about 11:30 p.m. with the young woman after he offered to walk her to her apartment out of concern for her safety, leaving his car at the bar. He said he had no physical contact with the woman at the apartment, nor did he converse with any of her three roommates.
But he said one of her roommates -- a male -- followed him out of the apartment as he left on the morning of April 17.
He said he believes the male roommate reported his presence in the apartment to the Intern Committee, which then reported the incident to the Ethics Committee. He said the woman was grateful for his assistance in walking her home and did not have a problem with him sleeping on the floor.
Cole said it is his understanding that the man reported the incident because a "grudge" existed among the roommates.
Cole said he reported the incident the next morning to the staff of Minority Leader James Tedisco, R-Schenectady, before the roommate spoke to the Intern Committee. He also said he spoke to the young woman, who he said was "obviously concerned and panicked," and arranged for her to seek counsel from Tedisco's staff.
The Assembly adopted the new rules in 2004 after the former top legal counsel to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, Michael Boxley, pleaded guilty to sexual misconduct in connection with the rape of a female Assembly staffer. The woman later filed a civil lawsuit against Silver and the Assembly, citing a climate that permitted sexual harassment.
In addition, Assemblyman Adam Clayton Powell IV, D-New York City, also was investigated for allegedly partying with a 19-year-old Assembly intern in an Albany motel.
Sisa Mayo, an Assembly spokeswoman, said the Assembly tightened its rules after the incidents in recognition of the intern program as an academic exercise.
"We made it clear to them that their classroom extends to the members' offices, and that's why there should be no fraternization between the members and their staffs," she said.
Cole said he has been forthright in dealing with the matter with his family, Assembly leadership and the media.
"Sometimes life lessons learned best are those learned hard," he said. "I can tell you [that] you will not hear of me in a similar situation ever again."