ALBANY, N.Y. — The lawmakers in the Independent Democratic Conference on Wednesday evening closed ranks behind their embattled leader, Sen. Jeff Klein of the Bronx, after he was accused of forcibly kissing a woman outside of an Albany bar in March 2015.
Klein denied the allegation in a phone conference call with reporters and Sen. Diane Savino just before The Huffington Post published the details the allegation by a former IDC staffer, who spoke on the record with the website.
“We have complete confidence in Senator Klein, and we stand by him,” said the statement released by Sens. David Valesky, Jesse Hamilton, Marisol Alcantara, David Carlucci, Tony Avella and Jose Peralta.
“We understand this is an important moment in our history and we want to continue to encourage women to come forward. However, we know Jeff Klein, and the allegations would be completely out of character for him. He is an longtime champion for women, and for our state.”
Klein is the latest state lawmaker to be accused of inappropriate behavior. Republican former Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin late last year was accused of making an inappropriate comment to a legislative staffer and was sanctioned by the Assembly Ethics Committee. McLaughlin, who denied the comment was made, is now the Rensselaer County executive.
This latest allegation comes amid a national reckoning for powerful men and sexual harassment and abuse. In the lat several months, a range of prominent men in media, politics and entertainment have been accused of inappropriate conduct, forcing their removal from the public spotlight.
Klein, however, insisted Wednesday he would not be stepping aside as the leader of the eight-member conference.
State lawmakers this year and Gov. Andrew Cuomo have called for changes to how the state handles sexual harassment cases; Klein would ostensibly have a role in negotiating those changes.
In a statement, Cuomo on Wednesday night said he supported the call made by Klein and Sen. Liz Krueger for an investigation.
“Every allegation of sexual misconduct must be taken seriously,” Cuomo said. “I agree with Senator Klein and with Senator Krueger that this disturbing situation should be investigated, and I believe it should be done immediately and independently.”
More broadly, a deal in November was struck to unite the IDC and the mainline conference pending the outcome of special elections this spring to fill vacant seats in the Senate. Klein had backed the deal, which is aimed at giving the party a working majority in the chamber and would likely make him co-leader with Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins.
Stewart-Cousins would be the first woman to lead a legislative majority in Albany.
In a statement, Stewart-Cousins said the investigation should be conduct “outside the Senate.”
“These allegations are extremely disturbing. Too many women are discouraged from coming forward because they fear not being believed and attacked,” she said. “We need to confront sexual assault, harassment and inappropriate workplace behavior head-on and make it clear that it is not acceptable. There needs to be an immediate independent investigation outside the Senate.”
In a Twitter post Thursday morning, Klein’s declared primary opponent Alessandra Biaggi said a “strong response” was necessary amid the defense by Klein’s IDC colleagues.
“The women of New York deserve better. We all deserve better,” she said. “Today, voters in New York have one more reason to decide that Jeff Klein’s time is up.”