Just what do you have to do to get kicked off the City Council?
Councilman Andy King, a Bronx Democrat, seems committed to finding out: A 48-page report issued by the City Council’s ethics committee offered a portrait of a politician on tilt.
Investigators found evidence that Mr. King violated New York City’s anti-harassment policy and used Council funds to plan a retreat in the Virgin Islands at the same time as the wedding of his wife’s daughter.
Mr. King not only refused to cooperate with the investigations into his conduct, but he also actively sought to thwart them by threatening and firing members of his staff who he believed were cooperating, the committee found.
By a 44-to-1 vote, the Council agreed on Monday to suspend Mr. King for 30 days without pay, fine him $15,000 and appoint a monitor to oversee his office for the remainder of his term. The penalties take effect immediately.
A motion to expel Mr. King for his actions was introduced by Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, a Queens Democrat, but was defeated by a vote of 34 to 12.
Mr. King sat quietly as his colleagues criticized his behavior, then delivered a rambling 15-minute monologue, explaining that he was unfairly being “crucified” by Council members as “the worst person on the planet” and an “oppressor” of his staff.
“Because people say things sometimes doesn’t necessarily make it true,” Mr. King said.
The only thing he was guilty of, Mr. King told reporters as he left City Hall after the vote, was being “too nice.”
The inquiry into Mr. King’s conduct is not the first ethics investigation he has faced. In 2018, Mr. King was ordered to undergo sensitivity and ethics training after a sexual harassment claim was lodged against him by a female staff member.
Susan Lerner, the executive director of Common Cause New York, a good-government group, said Mr. King’s conduct should be examined by criminal authorities.
“I hope there would an independent investigation by criminal authorities to determine whether there was criminal activity or not,” Ms. Lerner said, adding that Mr. King’s conduct justified expulsion from the City Council.
“The Council does not believe he has the ability to behave appropriately, so to ask the taxpayers to pay for a babysitter is inappropriate,” Ms. Lerner continued. “If I as a taxpayer would pay for anything, it’s a new election.”
No one has been expelled from the City Council, which requires a two-thirds vote, since the 1989 City Charter revision. Mr. Johnson and Mayor Bill de Blasio, both Democrats, have called for Mr. King to resign.
“How can you resign?” Pamela Hayes, Mr. King’s lawyer, said at a news conference on Saturday. “The charges are unjust.”
Mr. Johnson, who this year hired Carrie H. Cohen, a former federal prosecutor and assistant state attorney general, to serve as the Council’s special prosecutor, said that the ethics committee had referred its finding to the “appropriate” outside agencies. He declined to specify which ones.
Mr. King and Ms. Hayes had tried in court to seek a delay for the Council’s vote, but the request for a temporary restraining order was denied, according to Council staff members; they said that both sides were to return to court in December.
Mr. King is not the only Council member to face public discipline for actions during Mr. Johnson’s tenure. The most notable case involved Rubén Díaz Sr., a Bronx councilman who resisted calls to resign after making homophobic remarks. Others were disciplined for sexual harassment and for saying that “Palestine does not exist.”
Council approves fine, suspension and monitor for Andy King
By JOE ANUTA , POLITICO, 10/28/2019 06:05 PM EDT
The City Council voted Monday to level the most severe punishment in the body’s history against Bronx lawmaker Andy King, who was found by investigators to have misused Council resources and then retaliated against staff members who he thought were cooperating with the ensuing probe.
King’s colleagues voted 44 to 1 with two abstentions to suspend him for 30 days, install a monitor for the remainder of his term, fine him $15,000 and strip him of his committee assignments. In addition, staffers who were pressured by King to leave would be allowed to return to work, employees would not be required to chauffeur King around in their personal vehicles without compensation and King’s wife, 1199 SEIU employee Neva Shillingford-King, would be prohibited from conducting Council business.
King was the lone vote opposed to the resolution.
“As for Council Member King, I deplore his cowardice and disdain with which he treated his staff, the committee and this entire body," Council Speaker Corey Johnson said on the floor of the chambers. “This conduct merits sanctions of the magnitude that we can be sure will serve as a significant deterrent, while fully protecting the staff that that been through so much, and that allows for the swift detection of any bad behavior that might occur which could result in even harsher sanctions."
On the floor Monday and following the vote, King denied the allegations in the report and said that he was not given adequate time to prepare a defense, echoing statements he made over the weekend. The lawmaker has filed a lawsuit, and has referred to the inquiry as an execution, a lynching and a crucifixion.
“I am so bothered that I am being put in this situation, and acting like I’m some horrible individual," said King, who maintained that he treats staff with respect.
King urged his colleagues to vote against the measures. None of them did.
“I’m not being treated fairly. It’s not right what’s happening here. And I don’t want people making emotional decisions when due process has been violated," he said. "I’m asking you for your support as someone who was duly elected as you are."
Council members Inez Barron and I. Daneek Miller both abstained.
In the hours leading up to the vote, King’s attorneys filed a lawsuit in Manhattan state court alleging that his due process rights were violated when the Committee on Standards and Ethics and the special prosecutor Carrie Cohen did not give the lawmaker and his attorneys adequate time to mount a defense.
“Council Member King hasn’t had a chance to tell his side of the story. He hasn’t had a chance to answer the allegations,” his lawyer, Pamela Hayes, said Saturday at a press conference. “And you just have to give a person due process. That is what New York is about.”
However, Council Member Steven Matteo, chair of the committee, said Monday that King’s lawyers deliberately avoided coming in so they could argue later that his due process rights were denied.
"There are most definitely examples of due process being violated by individuals not being afforded a fair chance to defend themselves — this is unequivocally not one of those cases,” Matteo said. “Council Member King was afforded every opportunity to defend himself and present his side of the story, and squandered all of them.”
On Monday, a former staffer, whose harassment claims were substantiated by the City Council during King's first turn in front of the committee in 2017, called for King's expulsion in an opinion piece, something that Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer had said last week.
Van Bramer attempted to make good on his pledge by introducing a motion to expel King from the body during Monday's meeting of the full Council, sending the proceedings into a lengthy detour while the body voted. A handful of members joined Van Bramer, including several likely competitors in the Queens borough president race, but the motion was ultimately defeated.
The suite of punishments are set to take effect immediately. A monitor that will be funded by taxpayers for the remainder of King’s term is scheduled to arrive at his office Tuesday and will be in charge of all hiring and firing decisions, will have access to the office’s email accounts and attend staff meetings. None of those are to be held at King’s house — a reference to some of the charges contained in the committee’s 48-page report that was first obtained by POLITICO last week.
In it, the committee laid out a series of ethics violations that played out over a number of years. King’s wife, for example, was allowed to direct Council staff and make hiring and firing decisions, in several instances brought friends and colleagues from her union into the office. King and his wife also used Council resources to carry out and support a retreat in the Virgin Islands that promoted the union and included the wedding of Shillingford-King’s daughter.
King also allegedly allowed one of his staffers to physically intimidate others in the office. And during a June 2015 meeting, the report argues he compared a picture from the city’s Pride Parade to child pornography.
Once the committee began investigating King, the Council found that he retaliated against staffers, at one point keeping them at a meeting in his house until those who had been cooperating with the probe revealed themselves. Three members admitted talking to investigators. And in response, they allegedly suffered a series of retributions.
“It brought us to tears of what [King's staff] had to go through. Nobody should have to go through that. Nobody should have to get up in the morning and dread going to work because they were going to be ridiculed, punished, threatened, anything that could harm them,” said Council Member Karen Koslowitz, who sits on the ethics committee.
“For the next two years and two months, Andy King will remember what he did," she later added.
With the vote behind them, the fate of King now lies with a Manhattan judge, who could decide to bring the process to a halt while determining the question of whether King was afforded a fair chance to respond.