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Outside firm to probe Jennings sex allegations

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The independent authority will lead the Council's probe into complaints against Jennings from two former female aides who contend the lawmaker forced them to clean his house on city time and made sexual jokes, said a spokesman for council Speaker Gifford Miller (D-Manhattan).

The two staff members, who were not identified, accused Jennings of sexual harassment and discrimination, and one said he fired her after she rejected his romantic overtures.

Jennings declined to comment, but an aide blasted the complaints.

"The councilman is in the process of obtaining legal counsel," said Jennings' staff member Joe Cullina. "He continues to deny all allegations. He will be vindicated when the truth comes out."

According to the allegations, which were briefly discussed at a December meeting of the Council's Standards and Ethics Committee, Jennings forced female staffers to clean his house on mornings that they picked him up. The women, who no longer work for Jennings, also said they were made to sit in the front of the office and watch a continuous videotape of his television appearances, while male staffers were given desks away from the display, the committee member said.

According to the complaints, the Jamaica councilman made sexual jokes and gave one woman a Caribbean doll with a giant phallus after returning from a trip there, a committee member said.

The Standards and Ethics Committee reviewed the complaint and referred it to other authorities, including the city Department of Investigations. The Department of Investigation declined to comment.

The City Council is also relying on the independent investigation to shield the committee and lawmakers from any appearance of impropriety and possible conflicts of interest, said Miller's spokesman.

Jennings has been called "an embarrassment" by executives of the Queens County Democratic Organization. In the 2003 election, the party machine backed Yvonne Reddick, district manager of Community Board 12, for his seat, but Jennings won a narrow victory in the primary despite party attempts to remove him from the ballot.

Jennings also clashed with Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Miller, most notably when he voted against the negotiated 18.5 percent property tax increase in 2002. After the vote, Bloomberg's office withheld Jennings' parking permit and the Council voted in February to remove him from the Finance Committee.

Early last year Jennings took out half-page ads in Chinese-language newspapers proclaiming his appreciation for the Chinese community and highlighting his personal relationships.

Reach reporter Courtney Dentch by e-mail at news@timesledger.com, or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.

Updated 10:25 am, October 12, 2011
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