Western New York Assemblyman Michael Kearns says he is quitting his Democratic conference based on the way Speaker Sheldon Silver handled the scandal involving disgraced Assemblyman Vito Lopez.
Kearns is calling on Silver to resign his leadership post. He says he hopes to be the first of many legislators to take such a stand.
"As long as he's the speaker, I will not be a member of the conference," Kearns told WBFO.
Lopez resigned Monday morning following an ethics commission investigation into sexual harassment claims by female members of his staff. The women accused Lopez of groping and inappropriate sexual comments. Silver approved a confidential settlement of $103,000 in taxpayer funds to pay two of the victims.
Kearns says in leaving the caucus, he did what he felt was right.
"The report is pretty clear. We had a serial sexual offender within the Assembly. The Speaker knew of it and he didn't do anything about it. To that end, that should be enough. You wouldn't want that person living next door to you, let alone sitting next to you in a legislative body," Kearns tells WBFO News.
"No one should be above the law and until something is done, I cannot be a party to this."
Kearns has been a harsh critic of Silver since winning a special election last spring. The settlement avoided the Assembly's own policies for handling sexual harassment cases in committee. Kearns says he would re-join the conference if Silver were to leave his leadership post.
"I just can't stand idly by. After reading that report and seeing the abuse that was perpetuated, I can't sit by complicity," Kearns says.
The Assemblyman says he has introduced legislation that would bar secret settlements in New York, but he says it has not moved out of committee.
Kearns, a former Buffalo mayoral candidate, won a special election to represent the 142nd District in March of 2012, running on the Republican and Independence party lines. His district covers Orchard Park, West Seneca, and portions of Buffalo and Lackawanna.