Five women who worked for Vito J. Lopez, the assemblyman at the center of a broadening sexual harassment scandal, described in interviews an atmosphere of sexual pressure and crude language in his office, with frequent unwanted advances by him and others, requests for provocative dress, personal questions about their boyfriends and fears of reprisals if they complained.
Ángel Franco/The New York Times
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Times Topic:Vito Lopez
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By their accounts, Mr. Lopez, 71, a Brooklyn Democrat, told some women not to wear bras to work. He requested they wear short skirts and high heels. He gave them cash to buy jewelry and complimented them on their figures, giving special attention to those he called “well endowed.”
He asked about their personal lives, urging them to break up with boyfriends, and berated those women — all of whom were new to politics — who did not compliment him effusively enough, according to several of the women interviewed.
One of the women, Stephanie M. Friot, spoke on the record, while the other four spoke on the condition their names not be used. Ms. Friot, 28, said that Mr. Lopez never directly harassed her but that “there was a certain culture where behaviors like that were permissible.”
Another woman described “an atmosphere of intimidation,” an environment where she and other former staff members said Mr. Lopez veered between crude jokes and fierce tirades.
“He would comment on a shirt I was wearing and say ‘I’d like it better if you didn’t have a bra on,’ ” said one of the former staff members. “That was something he brought up quite a bit.”
The sexual harassment scandal that has been roiling New York’s political world began last Friday, when the Assembly’s ethics committee substantiated claims that Mr. Lopez harassed two women. The Assembly released a letter censuring Mr. Lopez, one of the city’s last powerful political bosses, taking away his committee chairmanship and barred him from employing interns or anyone under the age of 21. The letter described “pervasive unwelcome verbal conduct” and found that Mr. Lopez verbally harassed, groped and kissed two of his staff members without their consent.
Over the next few days, The New York Times reported that Sheldon Silver, the Assembly speaker and one of the state’s most powerful Democrats, authorized a secret payment of $103,080 in June to settle prior allegations against Mr. Lopez from two other women — allegations that were never referred to the ethics committee. The settlement has sparked numerous calls for investigation into the Assembly’s handling of the matter. Mr. Silver has conceded he made a mistake.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and other elected officials have called on Mr. Lopez to resign, but he has resisted. Mr. Lopez did say on Tuesday, however, that he would not seek another term as Brooklyn Democratic Party chairman next month, a decision that will greatly diminish his power.
The five women’s accounts suggest that the harassment accusations substantiated last week by the ethics committee were part of a longstanding pattern.
Mr. Lopez and his aides did not respond Wednesday to phone calls and e-mails requesting comment about the women’s accounts, but Mr. Lopez has vigorously denied the previous allegations, saying: “The charges made against me are unfair and untrue. Never did I intentionally touch or attempt to kiss either of the complainants. I have never forced myself on anyone, nor would I.”
Mr. Lopez’s lawyer, Gerald B. Lefcourt, declined to comment.
Mr. Lopez is a holdover from an era when party leaders could lavishly reward friends and exile enemies to the wilderness. He has served in the Assembly since being elected in 1984 and has headed the Brooklyn Democratic Party since 2005, a post that came with tremendous influence and gave him unrivaled power in selecting the borough’s judges, and filling vacant political seats.
He was also the founder of the Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council, one of Brooklyn’s largest nonprofit organizations and a reliable well of votes, support and government contracts.
William K. Rashbaum contributed reporting.