The reprehensible accusations of lewd behavior toward female staffers by former Assemblyman Dennis H. Gabryszak are just the latest evidence, if any was needed, of the ethical swamp in Albany.
The allegations by the state’s Joint Commission on Public Ethics are just that: allegations.
But the commission’s detailed charges portray a disrespectful politician using his office to manipulate subordinates afraid to jeopardize their jobs by challenging him.
The Cheektowaga Democrat left office in January 2014 amid a flurry of claims by former female staffers. The commission said Gabryszak engaged in “one lewd, embarrassing action after another during his seven-year stint as a state office holder,” according to a recent News article.
The commission said Gabryszak “subjected female staffers to ‘inappropriate sexually charged conduct and improperly used state resources for his re-election campaign.’ ”
The 15-page report said that more than a half-dozen female staff members were subjected to “crude remarks and behavior by the assemblyman.” In addition, it said they were told they served in their state jobs at his pleasure, and that they could be fired for any reason – including their physical appearance.
In his defense, Gabryszak said: “There was mutual banter and exchanges that took place that should not have taken place because it is inappropriate in the workplace even if it does not constitute sexual harassment.”
Some staffers said they spent much of their time on the state payroll doing work on Gabryszak’s re-election campaigns.
The commission’s report now goes to the Legislative Ethics Commission, which could levy a fine. The commission could also refer the case to a prosecutor or the State Attorney General’s Office for possible criminal charges.
The seven women have filed lawsuits against Gabryszak in various courts.
A State Supreme Court judge late last year tossed out three lawsuits because the women waited too long to file them, but allowed three others to go forward with limitations. The seventh woman is suing in federal court.
If proven, the accusations would constitute one more brick in the walk of shame by our elected officials. The recent corruption convictions of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos topped the half-dozen convictions or guilty pleas last year.
In a 2013 case with parallels to Gabryszak’s, Vito Lopez, D-Brooklyn, resigned from the Assembly following claims by eight female staffers that he sexually harassed them. He was fined $330,000 by the ethics commission. Silver became embroiled in that controversy when it became known that he had approved secret settlements with some of the women.
A year ago, The News published a depressing list of state legislators – and a couple of former governors – involved in various scandals – ethical, financial and sexual. Without serious reforms of rules and procedures, the list is certain to keep growing.
It is a mystery why some politicians seem to believe that the rules don’t apply to them when they are sent to Albany. It’s up to voters – and prosecutors – to remind them of the meaning of public trust.