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NY Senate leader denies allegations of forcible kissing

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The leader of the Independent Democrats in the New York Senate denies that he forcibly kissed a former staffer and says he intends to remain as leader of the breakaway Democratic faction.

Jeff Klein and his colleague, Sen. Diane Savino, issued a pre-emptive strike against an article in The Huffington Post where the unnamed former female staffer says Klein forcibly kissed her on the sidewalk outside an Albany bar on March 31, 2015, the night the state budget was approved.

Klein said the incident did not occur.

“I want to be crystal clear,” Klein told reporters on hastily arranged conference call. “This alleged incident never happened, nor did anything inappropriate happen that evening in any fashion. Period.”

The senator says the staffer never filed a formal complaint against him and even wrote a letter of resignation two months later where she praised Klein. The senator says he did hear a rumor about an alleged incident the next day, April 1, 2015, but told others he did not try to kiss the staffer and soon forgot about it.

Savino, who has dated Klein, says she was with him the entire evening and says there would “have been an incident” had the alleged kissing occurred in front of her.  

“Those of you who know me, know that I would not have remained silent,” said Savino.

The senators both remember the staffer asking Klein about his plans for the upcoming Passover holiday. They say the staffer asked Klein if he wanted to attend her family’s holiday meal, which Klein says he politely declined. Klein says he later smoked a cigarette outside the bar, Justin’s on Lark Street, and that he conversed with the staffer. But he says that was the end of the interaction.

Klein also released a report from an attorney he hired to conduct an investigation. The lawyer, Michela Zweib, of Loeb and Loeb, interviewed several witnesses who said the alleged incident on the sidewalk outside the bar did not occur.

“In our view, it defies both reason and credibility to suggest Sen. Klein would have, in full view of both his longtime girlfriend, numerous staff members, and in the middle of a very visible and public street, assaulted the Former Staffer, as her allegation suggests,” the report read.

The report also alleges that the staffer had been drinking.

Klein says he will cooperate in any other probes that might occur.  There is no word from the State Senate yet on whether an ethics investigation will be launched.

Late Wednesday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued the following statement:

"Every allegation of sexual misconduct must be taken seriously. I agree with Senator Klein and with Senator Krueger that this disturbing situation should be investigated, and I believe it should be done immediately and independently."

The rest of the members of Klein’s Independent Democratic Conference issued a statement in support of their leader. Senators David Valesky, David Carlucci, Tony Avella, Jesse Hamilton, Jose Peralta and Marisol Alcantara say they have “complete confidence” in Klein and say the allegations are “completely out of character” for the Senate Leader, who they say is a “longtime champion for women.”

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. WBFO listeners are accustomed to hearing DeWitt’s insightful coverage throughout the day, including expanded reports on Morning Edition.