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City Council votes to censure Jennings

While the councilman, who is up for re-election, will keep his seat, he was also ordered to attend sensitivity training by the Council, which voted 42-2 for the package of penalties. It marked the first time the Council had voted on such a matter.

"I am a sinner, but the sins I am accused of today I did not commit," Jennings told the Council. "This process was far from fair."

Councilman Charles Barron (D-Brooklyn) said he voted against punishing Jennings because he thought the procedures that led to the punitive measures were flawed.

Councilman Hiram Monserrate (D-Corona) was one of four members who abstained from voting.

"This is the most significant and stringent penalty the Council has ever imposed on one of its own members," said one Democratic insider Monday, noting that Jennings would probably be censured.

In a report issued last week, the Standards and Ethics committee gave credence to reports from one of Jennings' female staffers that he rubbed against her in a sexual way and from another female employee that he touched himself while calling her to look over. After Jennings' advances were rejected, the staffers said he called black women "bitches" that were too "finicky" and did not have their act together. The Jamaica councilman also told the women he was a councilman and could do whatever he wanted, they said.

The Standards and Ethics Committee ruled that Jennings created a hostile work environment, improperly fired one of the staffers after she complained about sexual harassment and improperly used public resources in making one of the employees perform domestic chores. The committee recommended a combination of sanctions, including removing Jennings from committee posts and requiring an office observer, for the Council to vote yeah or nay on.

The committee stopped short, however, of suggesting expulsion. The Democratic insider said the committee did not consider the penalty because there was no crime committed, an unofficial threshold.

A law enforcement official said, however, that the Council could also vote to send the charge of improperly using public resources to the Queens district attorney if they thought it was a crime or to the Conflicts of Interest Board if the standard was not quite met.

Jennings has responded to the charges with a blanket denial and said he was the target of a conspiracy by the Queens Democratic party. He and his lawyer have said his accusers were not attractive enough to draw his interest. The Jamaica councilman also released a statement Tuesday saying his accusers added allegations not in their original complaints.

In a Council meeting after the report was released, Jennings offended several colleagues, Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) said.

"Two female members walked out because they were insulted," Comrie said. While the St. Albans councilman declined to criticize his Jamaica colleague, he said, "I'm just saddened by the whole state of events." Elsewhere in southeast Queens, the Council vote drew a muted response from community leaders, many of whom said they could not comment on politics. The Democratic insider questioned their silence, noting that even if Jennings were re-elected, he was an "isolated" leader who held little power.

"Where are the women's groups is a legitimate question," the insider said. "Where is the NAACP?"

Along Sutphin Boulevard in the heart of Jennings' district, many South Jamaica residents said Friday they had not been following the misconduct probe, while some had not heard of the councilman.

Others gave Jennings the benefit of the doubt and drew a distinction between a Council vote and a court conviction.

"It still doesn't have to be true," said Lula, who would not give her last name. Only a couple of residents denounced Jennings. "I wouldn't vote for him anymore-he's like a maniac, "said Chauncey King, 23. In a telephone interview, Rev. Henrietta Fullard, the president of Southeast Queens Clergy for Community Empowerment, said the community would accept the results of the Council vote but had more pressing daily demands.

"We should just move forward from there-we have other kinds of issues in our community we need to work on," she said.

Reach reporter Michael Morton by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

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