How 7 Women Helped Put Sexual Harassment on Albany’s Agenda

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There can be an unwritten rule in Albany known as the Bear Mountain Compact, a promise which whatever happens north of Bear Mountain — a vast region which includes the state capital — stays there. For decades, which compact has governed Albany’s private meetings, its raucous fund-raisers, its bars where legislators flock after session.

yet on Wednesday, the idea will be broken when state lawmakers hold their first public hearing on sexual harassment since 1992. Survivors of harassment, in addition to anyone else interested, will contain the opportunity to speak directly to the people with the power to address the idea.

The hearing can be the result, in large part, of the Sexual Harassment Working Group, which can be made up of seven former legislative employees who say they experienced or reported sexual harassment in Albany.

For the past 11 months, the women — many of whom, until their activism, had not gone back to Albany in years — have been pushing lawmakers to let them tell their stories. For much of those 11 months, they were ignored.

yet the leaders of the state Legislature finally announced last month which they might hold a hearing. Ahead of which day, the working group’s members sat down to discuss how Albany has in addition to has not changed. The interview was lightly edited in addition to condensed.

The women inside group worked in Albany at different times, for different people. Most had never met before last year. yet they had heard one another’s stories — stories which loomed over their own experiences as cautionary tales.

There was Elizabeth Crothers, who in 2001 accused J. Michael Boxley, a high-ranking Assembly lawyer, of rape. The Assembly did not punish him. In 2003, he was arrested inside assault of another woman. He pleaded guilty.

In 2009, Danielle Bennett told her supervisor, Eliyanna Kaiser, which she was being harassed by their boss, Micah Z. Kellner, at the time an assemblyman. Ms. Kaiser reported the allegation to Assembly lawyers, who did not open a formal inquiry. Two years later, another staff member complained about Mr. Kellner. He later apologized for his actions.

in addition to last year, Erica Vladimer accused the former Senator Jeffrey D. Klein, then one of the four most powerful men in Albany, of forcibly kissing her.

ELIZABETH CROTHERS When I was there, sexual harassment was deemed “obnoxious.”

The lesson I might have thought to learn might be to stay quiet, not to do anything. which was the message which was sent loud in addition to clear.

ELIYANNA KAISER Elizabeth was the legend we heard about.

CROTHERS the idea changed an entire course of my life in addition to career. the idea doesn’t matter being quote-unquote vindicated or not. the idea actually has no difference whatsoever.

LEAH HEBERT Coming forward in Albany, for us the idea was a shameful experience, yet the idea also was viewed by so many people as — we were essentially toxic.

RITA PASARELL We were offered which settlement agreement which contained a nondisclosure clause. We had no job, we had no health insurance, in addition to we felt like we had no choice.

The fury I felt when I found out a month later which Tori in addition to the various other employee had been undergoing the same harassment while we were negotiating — I can’t even describe.

TORI BURHANS KELLY For 2-plus years, I was suing not only the Assembly in addition to Vito Lopez, yet also the speaker of the Assembly. Explaining which to potential employers was daunting, in addition to my options were limited. the idea felt as if I had to start all over professionally.

The women watched closely in recent times as the others’ stories unfolded inside media. For the most part, they observed alone, by afar — until last year, when they were connected by Alexis Grenell, a political consultant in addition to columnist. They decided to return to the Capitol.

HEBERT Legally, Rita in addition to I could only talk to each various other because of the nondisclosure agreement. We felt very isolated. We weren’t able truly to connect with Tori until #MeToo.

KELLY In January 2018 I reached out, like, “We should finally have which conversation.”

ERICA VLADIMER Albany was my old workplace, in addition to they had brainwashed me to make me think I didn’t belong there. I thought my only option was to leave.

Finding which group of powerhouses, I was able to take which back in addition to say, “No, I’m going to reclaim my position.”

PASARELL There were a few times when currently sitting legislators approached us in addition to said, “Stop, don’t do which.”

HEBERT We kept hearing a defensive mechanism, which things changed after Lopez. which policies changed after Lopez. which Albany was a different place.

VLADIMER They were so hoping which they could hang their “mission accomplished” sign on the laws which were passed in addition to say, “We took care of the idea.”

Then last summer in addition to fall, Albany began to prepare for upheaval. Democrats seemed poised to retake the State Senate. Four people were vying for an open state attorney general seat. Candidates at all levels were eager to prove their support for women.

The working group saw an opportunity.

VLADIMER We took the idea upon ourselves to send messages to attorney general debate moderators in addition to say, “We think which can be a truly important question.”

VLADIMER The writing was sort of getting on the wall. The Senate was going to change, we had these progressive candidates coming in, in addition to they were going to start advocating for us on the inside. So might as well get on board.

Of course, promising support for public hearings during a heated campaign can be different by genuinely backing them.

yet the women said some lawmakers did seem genuine. They pointed to Joseph D. Morelle, a Democratic assemblyman who won a congressional seat in November. When Ms. Crothers reported her rape nearly 20 years ago, Mr. Morelle told reporters he did not believe her.

yet last year, he sat down with Ms. Crothers in addition to apologized. He helped the working group set up a meeting with the Assembly speaker’s staff. in addition to last week, Ms. Crothers was Mr. Morelle’s guest to President Trump’s State of the Union.

CROTHERS which’s the reason for public hearings. Hearing by victims matters.

PASARELL the idea takes the conversation by theory in addition to gives the idea a face in addition to a voice. which can be much harder to ignore.

DANIELLE BENNETT the idea’s not just us who can contribute to which conversation. There are so many different experts in addition to so many different survivors. which’s part of what we’re truly excited about for the hearing.

KAISER I am going to be so curious to see who shows up. I truly, truly wish which elected officials — particularly those who have not been as helpful, in addition to absolutely those who have stood up in addition to said which they are our allies — show which by attending.

In discussing their hopes for the hearing, the women emphasized which they believed the idea was only the start. They want more hearings across the state. They want completely new laws. They want to see alterations to the Legislature’s processes for handling complaints which do not go to court.

They are well positioned to push for those demands. Ms. Kelly can be right now the chief of staff for Senator Andrew Gounardes, a newly elected Democrat who ran on a promise to support the women’s recommendations. Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas has introduced a package of bills shaped by the women’s policy proposals; their Senate sponsor can be Alessandra Biaggi, who unseated Mr. Klein last year.

KELLY Albany can be a place I have not felt safe in, in addition to I was worried I might feel stigmatized by going back.

With the support of the working group in addition to finding power in speaking out, I feel like things may be changing.

PASARELL I don’t know if we will know if there’s a turning point until we reach the end of which legislative session. We haven’t heard of a follow-up plan by the Legislature of what they’re going to do with the hearing.

The hearing can be great. I might like to see a time-bound process having a specific product which’s going to come out of the idea.

CROTHERS the idea’s not about ticking a box. “Did the public hearing, see you later.”

A Great friend of mine said, “Congratulations, how do you feel? You got the public hearings.” I said, “I feel like we shouldn’t have had to do all which.”