Is NYC Councilmember Allan Jennings' Sexual Harassment Case an Example of Election Without Merit?
JENNINGS' FREE RIDE
City Councilman Allan Jennings' vile conduct, as detailed by his peers in a report Tuesday, is shocking.
But not as shocking as the council ethics committee's recommendation - namely, to let Jennings stay in office with barely a wrist-slap.
This mess is to be expected when any Tom, Dick or Allan can scrape together a couple of bucks, grab some municipal matching money and squirm his way into a council seat, and when term limits kick out responsible veteran pols en masse, creating a sellers' market for lawmakers.
It's what happens when the body's putative boss, Speaker Gifford Miller, is a term-limited mayoral wannabe more concerned with moving up than with controlling his members.
The report speaks for itself: Jennings was accused of forcing an employee to perform personal services and making humiliating sexual advances to staffers.
Want a sample? Sit down first:
* One staffer testified that, while cleaning his house as ordered, Jennings - wearing boxer shorts - grabbed her from behind and pressed "his erect penis against her."
* Another time, after the woman learned she had cancer, Jennings grabbed her from behind. "She had to struggle to free herself, elbowing him and then turning to slap him."
* Jennings, who's black, said "he did not like black women because they were bitches, and they were always looking for something or they were good for nothing."
Not that such racism kept his lawyer, Ron Ellis, from playing the race card himself, saying: "Jennings is being subjected to a mugging. . . . For a [council] speaker and a majority white committee to deprive constituents of a majority black-West Indian district of representation on committees is, I assert, institutionally racist."
But Jennings' victims weren't white. Nor are the vast majority of his constituents - who must be cringing in embarrassment because of his antics.
Jennings stands to lose his committee assignments. Other proposed penalties include having to pay a $5,000 fine and take sensitivity training.
What an insultingly tepid prescription.
"If somebody in the private sector had done what [the report] described, most of our [clients], I would say, would terminate someone," says Laura Hampton, a sex-harassment consultant.
John Aretakis, a New York City lawyer, says in the corporate world a lawsuit against someone like Jennings and his employer could net "easily six figures."
Jennings might yet pay a higher price: The report was referred to the district attorney for possible criminal violations.
But even if Jennings ultimately is convicted, the council would probably find some way to keep him in office.
Their reasoning? There but for the grace of God . . .
ALLAN FIGHTS BACK
By FRANKIE EDOZIEN, NY POST, April 20, 2005
Facing punishment for his mistreatment of two female staffers, embattled Councilman Allan Jennings yesterday lashed out at his accusers - charging they lied and were out to get money.
Jennings, in a desperate last-minute bid to stave off sanctions today from the City Council, attacked the aides in a 26-page statement he circulated among his colleagues.
Jennings' brutal response to the accusations against him identified the two sexual-harassment victims by name.
Until now, their names have been withheld from public documents by the council because of the nature of the charges.
Jennings, a two-term Democrat from Queens, portrays one of the staffers, who complained Jennings grabbed her from behind - while aroused - when she was doing the dishes in his house, as a bald-faced liar.
"No allegations were made of any sexual advances at Jennings' home while washing dishes in the original EEOC complaint" filed in 2003, Jennings wrote in his statement, referring to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
But Jennings did not deny asking the government employee to wash dishes at his home - an issue the council has referred to the Queens district attorney for possible criminal investigation.
Jennings also dismissed the women's charges that he degraded black women as "bitches." The councilman said that also wasn't in the original EEOC complaint.
In his scathing statement, Jennings contended that the second woman made up charges against him while testifying before the Ethics Committee - and suggested she was out for money.
"The oldest motivator in the world," Jennings wrote.
After a nine-month investigation, the committee issued a detailed report last week that substantiated the claims of the two women and found Jennings created a hostile work environment.
The panel recommended Jennings be publicly censured, pay a $5,000 fine, face suspension from his committee assignments, and be monitored for the remainder of his term.