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Van Bramer and Candidates Call on Speaker to Release Findings of Sexual Harassment Audit

Cuomo misconduct heightens need for hearings in the NYC Council on city policy

QUEENS, NY (03/30/2021) (readMedia)-- City Council Members and candidates issued a letter today calling on Speaker Corey Johnson to release the findings of a sexual harassment audit from over two years ago. Councilmember Van Bramer who is running for Queens Borough President organized the letter, which was signed by Tiffany Cabán, Moumita Ahmed, Elizabeth Adams, Carolyn Tran, Brad Lander, Sandy Nurse, Marti Allen-Cummings, Amanda Farias, Shahana Hanif, Brandon West and Chi Ossé.

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The letter calls for the release of the audit findings, which the City spent nearly $200,000 to complete, as well as hearings to determine how and if the Council needs to amend its sexual harassment policy. The mounting reports of misconduct by Governor Cuomo further underscore the need to affirmatively address workplace safety here in the City.

"Several women have now come forward at great personal risk to detail the Governor's sexual misconduct towards his staff - such as grooming entry-level employees for sex, forcible touching and humiliation - as well as the people around him who enabled that abuse to continue. This kind of behavior has long been excused as a reality of working in politics, especially in Albany, but the City is not immune. Given the Council's own history of failing to act quickly to protect staff from abuse, we have a responsibility to take action now to make sure our workplace is truly harassment free," Jimmy Van Bramer said.

Van Bramer had been a leading voice against workplace abuse, calling on the Governor to resign as early as February 27th, and introducing the motion to expel former Council Member Andy King months before the Council ultimately did. Van Bramer has also introduced legislation to stop non-profit organizations from receiving city funds if they have been subject to multiple sexual harassment complaints.

"Harassment, toxic workplace culture, abuse of power, opaque reporting systems, and compromised investigations aren't unique to Albany. New York City Council staff and members spoke to consultants two years ago about the Council's workplace culture and reporting processes, and we expected a public report and recommendations for real change. Since then, not only has nothing changed, but the findings of the audit have yet to even be released. We cannot wait until the next time the system fails again to bring about meaningful reform," said Brad Lander, City Council Member and candidate for Comptroller.

"Our City Council must be accountable and actionable when it comes to sexual assault and workplace harassment. For the halls of government to remain virtuous, we also must ensure that the appropriate measures are taken so that survivors are acknowledged and abusers are held accountable. The City Council must release all records and recommendations from their surveys and hold hearings to properly determine the next steps necessary in providing accountability on this matter," said Amanda Farias.

"Nuestro Concejo Municipal debe ser responsable y procesable por acciones de agresión sexual y acoso en el lugar de trabajo. Para que nuestro gobierno siga siendo justo, también debemos asegurarnos de que se reconozca a los sobrevivientes y que los abusadores rindan cuentas. El Concejo Municipal debe publicar todas las cuentas y recomendaciones y realizar audiencias para determinar los próximos pasos necesarios para brindar rendición de cuentas sobre este asunto. Tenemos que liderar esta ciudad, exactamente como queremos vivirla," dijo Amanda Farias.

"We have a moral obligation to ensure that the New York City Council and all of City government is a healthy, safe and affirming work environment free of harassment and abuse for all. We demand that the findings of the 2018/19 focus group surveys along with the corresponding recommendations be released so that they may be used to inform and improve our current sexual harassment policies. Now is the time to take proactive measures to safeguard the wellbeing of our current and future staff," said Carolyn Tran.

"As a former City Council staffer and woman of color running for City Council in Brooklyn's 39th district, I am well aware of how our government brushes sexual allegations under the rug. The missing report is an extension of the lack of care shown to survivors of workplace abuse and sexual harassment. We cannot build a City rooted in gender justice without dismantling the culture of domination and control. I am demanding the release of the findings as a starting point for us to repair City Council and make it more accountable to staffers - we must honor and have the backs of staffers by implementing adequate procedures that remove abusers and immediately address harmful practices," said Shahana Hanif.

"What we're asking for today is common sense. The reckoning we are seeing right now to hold the Governor accountable is not exclusive to Albany. Harassment exists at all levels of government -- and too often the culture of bullying, mistreatment, and abuse exists locally too. The Council's failure to expel Andy King last year showed how much work we have to do to create a system that supports survivors and provides a fair workplace. Staff deserve accountability and a transparent process for change. It is why so many organized last year, because this wasn't the first time, and without clear employee protections we knew it wouldn't be the last. We change culture by cleaning up our own house, and COVID has only made this issue more important. Staff are working away from City Hall, many facing childcare and healthcare needs, and deserve clear protections and support. The importance of addressing harassment and a fair and safe workplace right now is imperative," said Elizabeth Adams.

"As a former City Council staffer, I witnessed firsthand the lengths to which a culture of misconduct and abuse was protected and held to a higher standard than the wellbeing of staffers. The New York City Council has an ethical responsibility to ensure there are effective policies and procedures in place that prioritize the safety of its employees. That begins with an unwavering commitment to act with transparency and to hold abusers accountable," said Brandon West.

"I remember the first time I had to quit a job because there was no HR department and or avenue for me to confront my abuser. Too often workplace harassment is dismissed and swept under the rug. We all deserve a safe work environment absent of unwanted sexual advances and abuse," said Moumita Ahmed.

"Electeds have a responsibility to model safe workplaces by taking an active stance against the abuse and mistreatment of their staff. Those who are silent on these issues are perpetuating a harmful working environment and should not be in positions of power. We must take action when harm is done against any employee. The only way we can eradicate sexual misconduct and ensure a safe work environment is to understand how pervasive it is in our local government. Without this information, we can't determine if claims are being addressed in a timely manner, and we will continue to have dedicated civil servants potentially in harmful situations. The findings must be released now," said Sandy Nurse.

"We cannot tolerate sexual harassment in any workplace, and the New York City Council must lead by example in creating an environment where people can do their jobs without fear of abuse from their employers or colleageues. If our government's leaders can not do this within their own halls, how can we expect them to root out and solve these issues in our community," said Tiffany Cabán.

"There's no place for sexual harassment in any workplace, but especially not in government. There must be real consequences for elected officials. If I'm lucky enough to be elected to City Council, I'll fight to ensure that the next Council prioritizes keeping staff safe and rooting out predatory behavior," said Lincoln Restler.

"Everyone has a right to a workplace free of sexual misconduct of any kind. Every workplace has an obligation to uphold that right, including our own government. My heart goes out to those who have experienced harassment while working for our elected representatives, and I am proud to call for swift and effective action to ensure our electeds are held accountable for any harassment in the workplace," said Chi Ossé.

The full text of the letter is below:

March 29, 2021

Speaker Corey Johnson

New York City Council

City Hall

New York, NY 10007

Dear Speaker Johnson,

In the last few weeks the New York State Legislature has been rightly focused on the allegations of sexual misconduct against Governor Cuomo which include, sexual grooming of entry-level employees, forcible kissing, and inappropriate touching as well as a generally abusive and toxic workplace.

However, the pervasive culture of workplace harassment and abuse in politics is not limited to Albany. The New York City Council has periodically failed to protect staff from abusers, like former Council Member Andy King. Although the Council ultimately expelled him, the initial attempt to first discipline King resulted in him abusing more staff.

Our work here is far from done. While many of our colleagues are term-limited and leaving office soon, we must take action now to make the Council a healthier work environment where abusers are held accountable for their actions for incoming members and staff.

In 2019, council members and staff received an email acknowledging concerns raised by Council staffers about the work environment. In addition to amending the Council's Anti-Discrimination and Harassment Policy to require supervisors to be mandatory reporters, the Council hired an Equal Employment Opportunity Officer. It also hired Redwood Enterprise LLC (RELLC), a firm with "three decades of experience in innovative and inclusive workplace practices and effective responses to bias, harassment, and discrimination," to conduct an audit of the Council's sexual harassment policies and procedures.

A few days later, an email sent from then-acting Council General Counsel, Jim Caras, detailed "assertive steps" the Council has taken to "make our workplace culture and sexual harassment prevention the 'best in class'." Those steps included revising the Rules of the Council (Rule 2.70 and 2.75), "to hold [the Council] accountable and promote a safe working environment." Rule 2.75(c), for example, requires the Speaker to distribute a discrimination and harassment climate survey ("Survey"), which was a commitment made when the Council passed the Stop Sexual Harassment in NYC Act of 2018. The Council has since distributed only two surveys.

RELLC subcontracted with Working IDEAL, Lake Research Partners and Holliday Advisors to carry out its assessment of the Council's workplace practices and policies, which included a number of focus groups designed to elicit Council employees' views concerning the Council's discrimination and harassment policies and perceptions of the Council's workplace environment. Last March, Caras emailed staff to share a summary of findings regarding the Survey that had been distributed to Council staff in late-2018/early-2019. According to Caras, the "findings, along with corresponding recommendations, are being thoughtfully considered to inform current and future policies and practices."

The recommendations of that report have yet to be released.

We are calling for those recommendations to be released, and for the Council to hold hearings into the findings so we can publicly interrogate our existing sexual harassment policy, not just for the Council but all of City government.

Sincerely,

Jimmy Van Bramer

Council Member, District 26 & Candidate for Queens Borough President

Brad Lander

Council Member, District 39 & Candidate for New York City Comptroller

Tiffany Cabán

Candidate for Council District 22

Moumita Ahmed

Candidate for Council District 24

Elizabeth Adams

Candidate for Council District 33

Carolyn Tran

Candidate for Council District 25

Sandy Nurse

Candidate for Council District 37

Marti Allen-Cummings

Candidate for Council District 7

Amanda Farias

Candidate for Council District 18

Shahana Hanif

Candidate for Council District 39

Brandon West

Candidate for Council District 39

Lincoln Restler

Candidate for Council District 33

Chi Ossé

Candidate for Council District 36