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Weprin finds ethics role a tough job in Assembly

Not only does he have to juggle his usual state legislative duties, but as the chairman of the Assembly Ethics Committee, Weprin is suddenly in the spotlight as allegations arise that...

By Sophia Chang

Assemblyman Mark Weprin (D-Bayside) has his plate full these days.

Not only does he have to juggle his usual state legislative duties, but as the chairman of the Assembly Ethics Committee, Weprin is suddenly in the spotlight as allegations arise that powerful Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) ignored early warnings that one of his key aides preyed on young women.

The latest incident, coming after a string of high-profile cases involving misconduct on the part of members, has Weprin struggling to use his role to help restore the Assembly’s integrity.

“The Assembly has had a series of improper behavior over the last couple of years,” Weprin said in an interview, reciting a laundry list of cases in which state politicians were charged with ethics violations.

“There was Gloria Davis (former Bronx Democrat) taking bribes, and then going to jail for those actions. An offshoot was an investigation into Roger Green,” the former Brooklyn Democrat who was allegedly misfiling his expense reports. “We issued a report calling on him to resign or face a list of sanctions. He chose to resign under pressure, on the recommendation of the ethics committee,” Weprin said.

He also mentioned Harlem Democrat Adam Clayton Powell IV’s alleged tryst with an intern that resulted in the Assembly drafting a policy forbidding fraternization with interns.

Now Weprin and the Ethics Committee must determine whether Silver, one of the three most influential officials in state government, acted improperly.

Silver, who is part of the Albany triumvirate also consisting of Gov. George Pataki and Sen. Majority Leader Joseph Bruno (R-Rensselaer), calls the shots on how the Democratic delegations from Queens and the other boroughs vote on issues.

Jane Doe, an unnamed plaintiff, has filed a lawsuit against Silver that alleges he ignored charges that his former chief counsel, Michael Boxley, sexually harassed a legislative aide. In doing so, Doe alleges that Silver allowed Boxley to continue his improper behavior, which eventually led to his conviction on charges of raping Doe.

Weprin said he could not comment on the lawsuit because it was still being decided in court.

“I know there was a lawsuit brought by a staff person who claims the speaker didn’t act properly after complaints were brought against the chief counsel, and it’s now in courts to decide whether that was dealt with properly,” he said. “The courts will decide whether Silver acted properly. It’s still merely an allegation at this time.”

He acknowledged that the Ethics Committee has had to combat unfavorable public opinion about the Assembly.

“This is a position that I’m certainly taking seriously. The negative perception that many people have of the Legislature is disturbing. It’s important for people to have trust in the government,” Weprin said. “Without public trust we don’t have proper government.”

Weprin said that at times, being the Ethics Committee chairman is difficult.

“Being the chair is not a fun job. It’s an awkward position where you have to look closely at the actions of colleagues and sometimes punish them,” he said. “That was the case with Green, someone I’ve known a long time and had been friendly with. I had to lead the investigation into his actions, which is not pleasant to do, but the integrity of the institution is important.”

“Do I enjoy it? No. But I do think the institution should be kept in as good of a light as possible. Lately we have not been in a very good light, to say the least,” Weprin said.

He added, “I want my children to look at what I do and be proud of what Dad is doing.”

Reach reporter Sophia Chang by e-mail at news@timesledger.com, or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.

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