NYC
08/27/2012 01:31 pm ET Updated Oct 27, 2012

Vito Lopez Sexual Harassment Charges Prompt New York Democrats To Call For Resignation

NEW YORK, Aug 27 (Reuters) - New York Democrats are intensifying pressure on state Assemblyman Vito Lopez, a long-serving Brooklyn powerbroker, to resign because of charges he made improper sexual advances toward two female interns.

Last week, the state Committee on Ethics and Guidance found Lopez had created a "hostile workplace" after two interns complained Lopez had kissed and groped them and made unwelcome comments.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, once an ally, said he had stripped Lopez of his seniority, ordered sexual harassment training and barred him from employing staff under the age of 21.

The developments represent a stunning turn of events for Lopez, 71, who was first elected to the assembly in 1984 and has served as Brooklyn's top Democratic leader for six years.

Almost immediately, New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and the city's public advocate, Bill de Blasio -- two likely Democratic candidates for mayor in 2013 -- issued statements calling on Lopez to resign.

The state's Democratic governor, Andrew Cuomo, on Sunday followed with a statement that sexual harassment "cannot be tolerated in any shape or form."

"These are serious allegations and if true, the governor believes he should resign," said Cuomo spokesman Josh Vlasto.

Gerald Lefcourt, Lopez's attorney, has denied the claims and said Lopez has been denied a fair hearing on the charges.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who enlisted Lopez's support three years ago to overturn the city's term limit law to run for a third term in office, had no immediate response.

The names and ages of the interns have not been made public.

"The complainants' experience working for Mr. Lopez was a terrible ordeal," said Kevin Mintzer, a lawyer representing the women. "His behavior toward them was both unlawful and morally reprehensible."

Mintzer said the women have not decided whether to pursue legal action.

According to a letter from Silver, from June until complaints were made in July, Lopez made "repeated comments about their physical appearance, their bodies, their attire, and their private relationships," while "unwelcome verbal and physical conduct" escalated.

The letter said there were multiple incidents of "unwelcome physical conduct," including Lopez putting his hand between the upper thighs of one complainant. (Reporting By Edith Honan)