The City Council, given an opportunity to expel Andy King for multiple egregious offenses, wimped out despite calls by officials including Mayor de Blasio and their own Speaker, Corey Johnson, for him to resign.
Never mind that the Bronx Councilman, who previously had been penalized for sexually harassing a female staffer and then firing her when she brought charges against him, engaged in a new set of transgressions that included further retaliation this year against staffers who spoke to Council investigators about his conduct, including trying to fire them under the pretext of “staff reorganization.”
He was also found guilty of misappropriating Council funds, and reimbursing staff members who attended a 2017 retreat that he and his wife, Neva Shillingford-King, hosted on St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands for the Council’s Black, Latino and Asian caucus as well as union leaders, which happened to coincide with his daughter’s wedding.
He also allowed his wife, who is executive vice president of the giant health-care-workers union, SEIU Local 1199, to run his Council office, the probe found, while ordering staffers to perform work related to her union job. And for roughly three years, the Committee on Standards and Ethics found, Mr. King fostered “a culture of fear” and “permitted and/or failed to prevent a staff supervisor from repeatedly behaving in a verbally and physically threatening manner toward Council Member King and his staff in violation of Council rules.”
That staff supervisor wasn’t identified. One interesting question raised by that person’s behavior is why, if Ms. Shillingford-King held such sway over her husband’s office and staff, she wasn’t able to put an end to that mistreatment. Another is how she was able to spend so much time overseeing the Council office while holding what would normally be regarded as an important and demanding job with a major union.
Speaker Johnson described the conduct attributed to Mr. King as “the most-egregious thing I have ever seen in my six years in the City Council.” Why, then, wasn’t he more forceful in making the case for expulsion when Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer of Queens introduced a motion on the subject?
It’s possible Mr. Johnson was leery of asking an overwhelmingly Democratic body to get rid of one of its own. At the same time, one of the more-peculiar comments made on the matter came from one of the Council’s three Republicans, Steven Matteo, who as head of the Standards and Ethics Committee presided over the investigation. He told the New York Times prior to the Oct. 28 vote that the discipline imposed—a 30-day suspension, a $15,000 fine and the appointment of a monitor to oversee Mr. King’s office—might have been less severe if he had cooperated with the probe rather than making a “mockery” of it.
In other words, as bad as Mr. King’s conduct had been, much would have been forgiven if he’d been more cooperative, if not actually contrite about being such a rude and overbearing clown.
What Mr. Matteo seemed to be missing was that the Councilman was so enraptured by a mix of entitlement and grievance that he believed he was above reproach by his colleagues. Mr. King put an exclamation point on that when he called what was being done to him “a lynching,” the same charged noun favored by President Trump in his resistance to being held to account by a Washington, D.C.-based legislative body.
Mr. King, it should be noted, has yet to take his grandiosity to the point of declaring that he could shoot someone in broad daylight and not lose a single vote. Then again, he doesn’t have a Justice Department legal opinion finding that he is constitutionally protected from being charged with any crimes while in office.
But he showed how distorted his values were in 2017 when he identified staffer Chloe Rivera as the woman who had accused him of sexual harassment. He attacked her credibility then by claiming she had a “track record” of making such complaints, based on her previously filing one against Assemblyman Vito Lopez. This “accusation” ignored the fact that the late Mr. Lopez had resigned his job while facing expulsion for having harassed multiple women who worked for him, and that styling himself as a brother in arms with such a sleazebag wasn’t a good look for Mr. King.
Even before Council Members balked at removing this embarrassment from their midst, staffers had been talking about forming a union to protect themselves against mistreatment. When the Council declined to do the right thing, 26 present staffers and 90 former colleagues posted an open letter to the Council and Mr. Johnson demanding changes while alleging, “Over the years, certain council members have regularly mistreated, intimidated and underpaid staff, while members are given near-unlimited discretion over the treatment of their staff. We have few avenues to meaningfully launch complaints without fear of retaliation or intimidation.”
As Ms. Rivera told The Times, “the standard should be higher for elected officials.”
Joining a union might help. Our guess is it won’t be Local 1199.
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