National News

Coalition Leader in State Senate Accused of Sexual Misconduct

Posted January 10, 2018 11:13 p.m. EST
Updated January 10, 2018 11:18 p.m. EST

ALBANY, N.Y. — The leader of a powerful group of renegade Democrats in the New York state Senate has been accused by a former staff member of forcibly kissing her outside an Albany bar in 2015.

The allegation surfaced in a HuffPost article Wednesday, just minutes after the senator, Jeffrey D. Klein, held an extraordinary conference call with reporters to pre-emptively deny the accusation. Klein then released an investigative memorandum by his lawyers asserting that the former staff member had been drinking and behaving unusually that evening.

The woman, Erica Vladimer, told the HuffPost that Klein had kissed her against her will while the two were having a celebratory post-budget cigarette outside Justin’s bar in downtown Albany with other staff members and lawmakers.

“All of a sudden there was a hand on the back of my head and he shoved his tongue down my throat,” Vladimer, 30, told the HuffPost. “In my head it lasted forever, I don’t think it lasted even three seconds.”

Vladimer said the incident left her shaken, and she soon left her position as a lawyer on Klein’s staff.

“This alleged incident did not happen — period,” said Klein, who was joined on the conference call by another state senator, Diane Savino, who is in a long-term relationship with Klein.

“There were other people there, there were other staff members smoking. This incident never occurred,” Savino said, adding that if it had, “those of you who know me know I would not have remained silent.”

Klein’s lawyers, Michael P. Zweig and Mark J. Goldberg of Loeb & Loeb, argued in the memo that it “defies both reason and credibility” to suggest that Klein, who represents portions of the Bronx and Westchester County, would have kissed Vladimer “in full view of both his longtime girlfriend, numerous staff members, and in the middle of a very visible and public street.”

Zweig and Goldberg said that Vladimer had invited Klein to a Seder dinner that evening, and the senator “politely declined.”

“Sen. Savino found the invitation unusual enough to turn to one of Sen. Klein’s staff members present to ask if he had heard the invitation,” Klein’s lawyers wrote.

Vladimer, who was not immediately reachable for comment, painted a far different picture of Klein’s behavior, and its effect on her life. A month after that night, Vladimer said, she left Klein’s office. (The senator’s lawyers’ report confirmed her departure, but a spokeswoman for the senator said later that Vladimer had been looking for a job before the night in question.)

Vladimer added that after the senator had kissed her that night, she pulled away. “I said, ‘Senator, absolutely not.'” she said to the HuffPost. “And he looked at me and said, with this stupid little grin on his face, ‘What? What?'”

Vladimer said she soon left the bar and went to a friend’s house, where she broke down, according to the friend, who was not identified in the article. State Sen. Liz Krueger, D-Manhattan, said that she had been approached for advice by Vladimer about two weeks ago. Although Krueger said she did not initially ask which senator was involved, to avoid any potential bias, she said she immediately found Vladimer to be credible.

“She said she was absolutely not doing this because she wanted a payday,” Krueger, an outspoken supporter of women’s issues in Albany, said in a phone interview Wednesday.

Klein’s group, the Independent Democratic Conference, has been collaborating with Republicans in the state Senate since 2011, helping the GOP run Albany’s upper chamber, much to the chagrin of many progressive groups and a group of traditional Democrats led by Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins, also of Westchester County.

Earlier this month, Klein was asked his opinion about the need for new sexual harassment policies in Albany, after Democratic and Republican legislators, as well as Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, signaled their intention to push for stricter rules in the new legislative session.

“Sexual harassment has no place in any workplace and we must crack down on anyone who behaves in such intolerable ways,” he said, adding the IDC was reviewing ideas for new policies and would work to “protect victims and strengthen sexual harassment policies in this state.”