Sunday, August 24, 2008

Buffalo News -NY state sex scandals make Albany "Sin City" for politicians

Sex scandals earn Albany the tag of ‘Sin City’

Power, youth make state capital ripe for scandal, insiders say, as list continues to grow.

By Maki Becker NEWS STAFF REPORTER Updated: 08/24/08 1:33 PM

A former legislative aide accuses an assemblyman of sexually harassing her.
An underage intern accuses an assemblyman of raping her in a hotel room, then recants and says it was consensual, although he gave her alcohol.
An aide to the Assembly’s top leader is accused of raping two women, and the assemblyman stands by him until very recently.
The governor resigns as a federal investigation uncovers he had been seeking the services of high-price prostitutes. His successor admits that he and his wife had had affairs.
And now a Buffalo assemblyman admits he had been unfaithful to his wife several years ago but says his conduct did not violate any laws or State Legislature rules.
What is going on in Albany? According to longtime Albany insiders, the state capital has more than earned its nickname “Sin City.”
“Albany is a conducive environment to this kind of thing,” said Barbara Bartoletti, legislative director of the League of Women Voters of New York State, who has spent 28 years in Albany. “That may be true of every capital in the nation. You have a lot of powerful people, and young people tend to be attracted to powerful men.”
Charmian Neary, who filed a sexual harassment complaint with the Assembly in 1992 against her former boss, said the capital was a hotbed of outrageous behavior when she worked there. The complaint was dismissed, but she later sued Assemblyman Alan Siegel and the Assembly, and they settled with her.
When Neary arrived in Albany in 1990, she remembered being stunned at the attention she received, including that of her married boss. She was 30, had long blond hair but had never considered herself a babe.
“I was always the smartest one in my high school, not the most popular,” she said.
Neary recalled how lobbyists threw fundraisers and parties every night the Legislature was in session.
“You never had to buy dinner,” she recalled.
Over the years, she has kept tabs on the various scandals that have hit Albany.
“There’s a lull,” she said, after each one. “Then it rears its ugly head again.”
The blatant boozing and shameless cavorting have calmed down in recent years, said a woman serving in the Legislature, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
These days, most politicians in Albany behave themselves, she said. But not all.
“There’s a handful who act like they’re still in college,” she said. “They give everyone else a black eye.”
The tolerance of such wild behavior has at times led to criminal acts.
In 2003, J. Michael Boxley, who had been Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s top aide, was hauled out of the Capitol building in handcuffs on charges that he had date-raped an aide.
Two years earlier, another aide, Elizabeth Crothers, had accused him of forcing her to have sex with him in his apartment. She took her case to the speaker, but she said he did not take her accusations seriously. The complaint was dropped after she agreed not to pursue it further.
In the more recent incident, Boxley pleaded guilty to misdemeanor sexual misconduct and did not serve any jail time.
Now, Crothers is campaigning for Manhattan activist Paul Newell, who is challenging the speaker in a primary.
She is cynical about Silver’s motives in quickly taking up the allegations that Hoyt had affairs with two young women, who were 24 and 25 years old at the time.
Tuesday, a local blogger forwarded e-mails and other information about the affairs to the speaker’s press office. The ethics panel convened on the matter the next day.
Silver whipped into action in the Hoyt case, Crothers said in an interview, adding, “If only he had done the same with the rapist on his staff.”
When Crothers accused Boxley of sexually assaulting her, Silver publicly defended Boxley, saying he would be totally exonerated.
Silver now says in a statement he was “wrong about Michael Boxley, and as a father and grandfather I have tremendous anguish about what Elizabeth Crothers went through.”
Silver added: “I am deeply dedicated to ensuring that every woman in this state feels safe, and I have devoted much of my career to protecting the rights of victims of sexual abuse, strengthening laws against rape and sexual violence, and providing resources for the treatment of victims.”
Crothers dismissed his comments.
“He feels anguish. . . . Well, he had seven years to let me know about this anguish. I never found out except from a reporter. I tend to think the anguish was getting the call from a reporter.”
Hoyt’s supporters have criticized the attention his infidelities have received.
“It’s a private matter,” Assemblywoman Crystal D. Peoples, a fellow Buffalo Democrat, said of Hoyt’s affairs.
While she doesn’t condone his behavior, she called it a matter between him and his wife.
“I think it’s unfair,” she said of his dirty laundry being aired. “This has got to be the only job where your personal issues get laid out before the world.”
Peoples, who said she has never witnessed her colleagues behaving badly, said many in Albany cleaned up their act after the Assembly passed a strict policy barring fraternization between Assembly members, as well as staff and interns.
The policy was enacted shortly after a 19-year-old intern accused Assemblyman Adam Clayton Powell IV of raping her. She later changed her story, saying that the sex was consensual but that he gave her alcohol.
Peoples, who was on the committee that came up with the policy, advocated banning interns from receptions where alcohol is served.
“It’s a rule that makes sense,” she said. “If they’re not there, there aren’t going to be [those problems.] And you know what college students will do if they have access to beer. They are going to have it. We as legislators should not encourage that or make it possible to do that.”
As more women join the Legislature, the bawdy behavior might disappear, said Bartoletti of the League of Women Voters.
“What female legislators do in their off time in Albany is go shopping; they go to the movies and maybe go to one another’s apartments to cook dinners,” she said.
More women in politics?
“That’s an answer,” she said, “if you’re talking about world peace or promiscuity.”

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