It was 2005 when the sexual harassment scandal of Republican Congressman Mark Foley hit the news. The Florida representative was accused of sending sexually inappropriate e-mails and text messages to under-aged boys in the Congressional Page program.
The response by Republican leadership? Sweep it under the rug. The problem for me, at the time, was the guy who did the sweeping was Western New York's own Congressman Tom Reynolds, who happened to be in charge of the National Republican Congressional Committee. Not only did Congressman Reynolds not immediately stand up and scream from the mountain tops about this, but he, in his role as Chairman of the organization with the job of electing Republicans to Congress, continued on with helping Foley mount his 2006 campaign. Luckily, it never got that far.
I remember watching Congressman Reynolds TV ad with him surrounded by children. It was a political ad done in the worst taste possible, and it was a tipping point for me. This was the crap that made people distrust their government and, in case you haven't noticed, there is a serious lack of trust in our government. At the time, I was definitely of the belief - and loudly proclaimed - that Tom Reynolds should step down. (I'm still convinced that's the reason he chose not to run in 2008.) I was so offended by the behavior, it actually pushed me to work on a Congressional campaign that year for one of the candidates running for Reynolds' seat.
Fast forward to present. Over the past couple of weeks pressure has mounted for, and eventually resulted in, the resignation of New York State Assemblyman Vito Lopez for sexually harassing female staffers. The situations are exactly the same. When confronted with the information, long-time Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver made the worst possible decision: he contributed to the act by covering it up. In this case, he even bribed the women in question to stay quiet with large sums of taxpayer money.
I am certain I speak for the majority of New Yorkers when I say, I want my share of that money back. You want to pay hush money to cover up despicable acts, pay it out of your bank account.
In 2005, I said that Tom Reynolds should resign and, for his part in Lopez cover-up, Sheldon Silver should resign. At least one Democrat, Assemblyman Mickey Kearns, did the right thing when he resigned from the Assembly Democratic Conference. I am disappointed that we have not heard from other WNY Democrats on the matter. They are doing the same thing that Reynolds and Silver did: they are tacitly approving of the behavior.
It's been a rough few months for the Democrats in New York State. We look like the Republicans during the Jack Abramoff scandal. Selfish and corrupt. But that was about money, and in the case of the Lopez abuse of power, it is about basic human dignity.
Congratulations, Mickey Kearns for doing the right thing. I am certain it will cost you. For the rest of the Democrats who chose to remain silent, we cannot rebuild our party or ever claim the high ground if we choose politics over doing the right thing.