Representatives from grassroots coalitions across the state gathered on the steps of City Hall on Friday afternoon to demand State Sen. Jeff Klein step down, in the wake of allegations that surfaced earlier this week that he forcibly kissed a former staffer outside an Albany bar in 2015.
Klein, whose district takes in the Hunts Point waterfront occupied primarily by the food distribution markets, has flatly denied the allegations, adding he would support an independent investigation.
Klein heads the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), which routinely caucuses with the Republicans in the state Senate. A former IDC staffer, Erica Vladimer, alleged in an interview with the Huffington Post on Wednesday that the senator forcibly kissed her while the two were smoking cigarettes on an Albany sidewalk outside the bar in the early morning hours on April 1 2015. She quit her job a month later.
Heather Stewart of Empire State Indivisible, whose website declares it strives “to defend New York against the Trump administration, and those in our state government that enable its harmful policies,” told a small gathering outside City Hall that Klein “can certainly no longer remain a lawmaker,” in light of the allegations.
A statement issued by Klein’s IDC colleagues, Stewart continued, shows that they are “deaf to justice.” The other seven renegade senators released a joint statement Thursday, which read: “We have complete confidence in Senator Klein, and we stand by him,” and “the allegations would be completely out of character for him. He is an longtime champion for women, and for our state.” Klein’s defenders have seized on the fact that Vladimer did not register a formal complaint after the alleged incident as proof that the senator is innocent.
A representative of True Blue NY, a coalition of grassroots groups that oppose the IDC, said that about half of the 100 organizations they represent are demanding Klein resign. Mia Pearlman decried the state Senate’s “total lack of mechanisms to deal with this in an appropriate way,” as a reflection of the IDC’s—and Klein’s—inability to govern effectively.
Ava Ben Ezra, an organizer for the Working Families Party, said that Klein “would say we’re politicizing this issue,” if called on to respond to his opponents, but that would be a transparent attempt to shirk responsibility.
In a statement, Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said that an “immediate independent investigation outside the Senate” is needed, and that “these allegations are extremely disturbing. Too many women are discouraged from coming forward because they fear not being believed and attacked.”
Vladimer on Thursday commented publicly for the first time since Wednesday’s Huffington Post story. In a Facebook post, she wrote that “Sen. Klein abused his power by violating my body, and ultimately my mind and soul.”
“Legislation geared towards supporting and protecting victims is needed; laws protecting staff from becoming victims are necessary,” she added in the post. “But legislation and rules can only go so far. It’s time to hold our elected officials accountable. I am willing to risk everything to help that happen. I am pleased to see calls for an independent investigation, and I am hopeful that it will not stop at this one incident, but attempt to overhaul a broken system where such a culture has been allowed to fester for decades.”
In countering Vladimer’s contention in the Huffington Post piece that she left the job as a delayed response to the incident, Klein’s office went on the offensive, saying that “In fact this individual had been looking for a job for some time before the alleged incident on March 31, 2015,” and citing her Twitter account, in which Vladimer requests job references from Klein’s office.
A lawyer hired by Klein from law firm Loeb and Loeb has released photos of the sidewalk in front of Justin’s, the bar in Albany where Vladimer alleges the incident occurred, saying that if Klein had indeed tried to kiss Vladimer, there would be witnesses because it is located on a main street. One of the protesters, Jessica Ramos, who plans to run against IDC member Jose Peralta in a Queens primary later this year, called on Klein to stop using campaign funds for his legal defense, calling it a ploy “right out the Republican playbook.”