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Assemblyman Vito Lopez Expresses Contempt For 'Politically Motivated' Allegations

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork)Brooklyn Assemblyman Vito Lopez responded sternly to the allegations of sexual harassment levied against him in a statement released Tuesday evening.

Calling the allegations "politically motivated," Lopez also expressed disdain for what he called "unethical or illegal leaks" about the six-figure secret payout to Lopez's accusers.  He said both the allegations and leaks were done "with the principle motive of destroying my credibility and election options."

Lopez said he would "not capitulate to those self-serving tactics and demands," adding that he believes "the people should decide who should represent them."

Meanwhile, the powerful speaker of the New York State Assembly said he did not cover up the case. After a week of silence, Sheldon Silver spoke out Tuesday as a state ethics watchdog appears to be starting up an investigation.

On Tuesday up in Albany there was a rare special meeting of the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, known as "JCOPE." Cameras were kicked out as the ethics panel went into executive session. It's widely assumed JCOPE is investigating alleged sex harassment by Assemblyman Lopez, and, perhaps, Speaker Silver's approval of a six-figure secret payout to Lopez's accusers, CBS 2's Tony Aiello reported.

At the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., Silver told CBS 2's Marcia Kramer the case was mishandled, not covered-up.

"[It's] a mistake that won't happen again. Clearly it was wrong of us to do what we did and go along with the confidentiality," Speaker Silver said.

Former Assemblyman Michael Benjamin said he doesn't believe Silver would try to protect Lopez, who Benjamin sees as a throwback to a different era of how men treated women.

"I think Shelly's weathered the storm. I don't believe he's done anything illegal or unethical," Benjamin said. "It's an outdated culture.  It was wrong then and it's wrong now."

As for Silver, some recall an earlier scandal, when a top silver aide, Michael Boxley, sexually assaulted a young woman. The victim collected $500,000 after settling a lawsuit that claimed Silver mishandled an earlier complaint about Boxley, and tolerated a culture of sex harassment.

"It was shocking and incredibly disappointing to be here more than a decade later and think, my goodness, did he not learn anything from that incident in his own office?" said Sonia Ossorio, Executive Director of the National Organization of Women-NYC.

As JCOPE opens an investigation, Silver is promising full cooperation.

Lawmaker support for Silver has been strong, but on Tuesday a Democrat running for an upstate Assembly seat said he does not believe silver should be re-elected as speaker.

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