Accusations of sexual harassment against Assemblyman Micah Kellner (D-76) have eroded support he once had in his bid for city council. Over the past two weeks, since the New York Times reported the harassment claims which allegedly occurred four years ago between Assembly Member Kellner and a female staff member, several of Kellner’s political supporters have dropped their endorsements, the first of whom was current City Council Member Jessica Lappin. Lappin called his behavior “clearly wrong and inappropriate” when withdrawing her official support for the seat she currently holds.
Kellner has not denied the allegations, which occurred in 2009 over Gmail Chat, according to the Times. The story reported that the conversations included unwanted advances from Kellner, who was 31 and not married at the time, to the female staffer; one such statement was, “I hired you because you were cute during the interview.” The staffer complained to her supervisor, an aide to Kellner, but the complaint apparently stopped at the desk of assembly lawyer Bill Collins in 2009 and no investigation was conducted at the time.
No formal complaints or charges have been filed against Kellner. The Assembly Member, who has represented the Upper East Side in Albany for the past six years, refused to speak to Our Town for this story, but gave the following statement to media organizations:
“Over four years ago, for a few weeks while I was still single, I exchanged instant messages with a female member of my staff that were flirtatious. It was inappropriate. I was wrong and it was stupid. When I was told that my staffer felt the messages were unprofessional, I immediately stopped and regretted placing her in that position. I was sorry then and I am sorry now.”
He added: “If I had been aware that documents pertaining to me had been submitted to an Assembly counsel four years ago, I would have immediately requested that the Assembly Ethics Committee commence an investigation. I welcome such an investigation now.”
Kellner has lost some significant support from colleagues, including Borough President and candidate for comptroller Scott Stringer, who also rescinded his endorsement. NOW-NYC, the National Organization of Women’s New York chapter, has recently endorsed Benjamin Kallos, Kellner’s competition and fellow candidate for City Council District 5.
Yet despite the general sense of disapproval from elected officials, local democratic leaders want to make it known that they still support Kellner. A letter to Kellner, signed by Trudy L. Mason, State Committeewoman, 73rd AD, Lexington Democratic Club and 48 other democratic leaders from the Lenox, Lexington and East Side Democratic Clubs expressed that “we reaffirm our support and endorsements of your candidacy in the upcoming Democratic Primary for New York City Council.”
The letter goes on to say that “While this matter is indeed serious – especially for those of us who have been in the forefront of the women’s movement – we note that this event occurred over four years ago and that you immediately apologized for your unprofessional behavior.”
Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney issued a statement last week expressing her concerns over the allegations but stopped short of pulling her endorsement. But in literature handed out by the Kellner campaign on Monday, Maloney’s name was whited out.
When reached by phone Tuesday morning, Maloney said that after a great deal of consideration she is continuing to support Kellner.
“I have given it a tremendous amount of thought, I have spent a lot of time talking to him, I have – in a sense – taken him to the woodshed, and I have a clear understanding from him that he has learned a lesson, that it will never, ever, happen again, and that he understands that for the rest of his life he’ll be under heightened scrutiny for everything he does because of this,” said Maloney.
When asked about Kellner’s campaign literature in which her name is missing, Maloney said, “Let’s talk about going forward.”
“I really struggled with this, and I truly believe that he wants to do the right thing and will do the right thing, so the best course of action is for me to continue supporting his re-election,” said Maloney. “I believe that he will work for the right policies for New York and work effectively to put these policies in place.”
Adam Bailey, a lawyer and Upper East Side resident who had previously donated to Kellner’s campaign said that the incident has only made him support his candidate even more.
“Micah has done an incredible job for our community, and he has been extremely important in getting results for things people care about,” said Bailey. “He should not have propositioned an employee but I put his career and his importance to New York above this non-defensible claim. Many politicians have done much worse than he has.”
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