Opinion: Andy King’s ribbon-cutting appearance underscores weak NYC governmental accountability

Making public appearances alongside the ex-councilman after his removal from office for workplace misconduct, New York City politicians send mixed signals on accountability. They must do better by cutting ties with perpetrators and fulfilling their promised audit for sexual harassment policies.

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William Alatriste

Ex-councilman Andy King made an appearance at a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a Bronx YMCA gym on Sept. 9. Considering his long history of abusive workplace practices, his appearance sends mixed signals regarding accountability for politicians. (Official NYC Council Photo by William Alatriste)

By Michelle Han, Deputy Opinion Editor

On Sept. 9, former councilman Andy King made an appearance at a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a YMCA gym in the Bronx. Pictured alongside him were several local politicians, including New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and democratic Bronx Council Member Vanessa L. Gibson, both of whom King spoke and exchanged pleasantries with.

Last year, both figures called for King’s expulsion from the New York City Council, with Gibson voting directly in support of the council’s motion. King’s long history of abusive workplace behavior includes multiple sexual harassment claims, threats of violence, pocketings of staff’s payouts and the misuse of Council funds for a personal trip to the Virgin Islands. 

Such misconduct sparked the council to open three ethics investigations, which ultimately led to a resounding vote of 48-2 in favor of his firing. 

“I’ve heard no contrition from Councilman King at all, ever, for any of his conduct,” Councilman Costa Constantinides told the New York Times at the time of King’s expulsion. 

His presence at the event highlighted city government’s larger pattern of weak structural accountability for sexual harassment. The New York City government must stand its ground by holding those guilty of misconduct accountable. This process starts with the refusal to stand with perpetrators of harassment at events, which contributes to the development of their long-promised audit for workplace harassment policies.

King’s case is only one example in a wide systemic pattern of worker harassment across city government. The New York City government enables consistent misconduct by providing limited resources for workers to speak out against mistreatment. This enabling is demonstrated in the New York Times’ recent headline describing city council workers that are regularly mistreated, intimidated, and underpaid.” 

Two years ago, during the impending investigation of King before his expulsion, over one hundred past and present employees addressed an open letter to the city council and its speaker, Corey Johnson. To pass policy for worker safety, their demands were threefold: “1. House the process of addressing harassment or abuse outside the political process; 2. Engage and accommodate the needs of affected staffers; 3. Establish set consequences for misconduct and harmful behavior.” 

Despite Speaker Johnson’s subsequent commitment to policy reform, particularly regarding sexual harassment, his promised audit analyzing workplace policies has not been published for the past two years. Per the city comptroller’s most recent report, city council has paid Redwood Enterprises $189,860 to conduct the audit thus far. There is also no public record estimating when it could be released. Johnson declined further inquiry by Gothamist for details. 

Not only does this lack of prioritization allow current workplace misconduct at city council to go unchecked, but it also enables politicians’ abusive behaviors while pretending to support workers’ rights. 

The scandalous announcement of once beloved ex-governor Andrew Cuomo’s resignation for sexually harassing 11 women and fostering a toxic workplace environment should serve as an urgent reminder. If Speaker Johnson wants to do better, he must prioritize the completion of the city council audit as soon as possible. Aware of the power of public appearances, New York political figures must avoid implicitly condoning abusive behaviors and refuse to appear alongside serial perpetrators such as Andy King.

A version of this piece appeared in the Monday, Sept. 27, 2021, e-print edition. Contact Michelle Han at [email protected]