By Joseph Spector
Albany Bureau Chief
CHARLOTTE -- As the Democratic National Convention kicked off Tuesday, New York Democrats touted their accomplishments over the past two years as a model for the country.
The state Legislature in 2004 was labeled the most dysfunctional legislature in the country, but Democrats said Tuesday that state government has improved since Gov. Andrew Cuomo took office last year.
"New York state is the progressive capital of this country," Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy, the former mayor of Rochester, told delegates Tuesday.
Despite the successes of taming the state's major budget deficits and limiting the growth in taxes, Democrats were still dogged in Charlotte by scandals back home. The sexual harassment case involving Brooklyn Assemblyman Vito Lopez continued to be discussed, and some leaders said he should resign.
The Assembly censured Lopez last month after its ethics committee said he sexually harassed two staffers. The Assembly also quietly paid $103,080 to settle a prior harassment case against him.
"I think he should resign today. I urged the speaker (Sheldon Silver) to see if there is any legal way the Assembly can remove him," U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer said of Lopez.
State GOP chairman Ed Cox said Tuesday that Silver, D-Manhattan, should step down as Assembly speaker because of the scandal.
"Silver's actions were unethical and wholly unbecoming of a member of the New York State Assembly, let alone its speaker," Cox said in a statement.
Silver has apologized for agreeing to a confidentiality clause in the settlement, and on Monday he said he asked Lopez last week to resign. Lopez refused, Silver said, and Lopez has denied the charges.
Silver said Tuesday he might seek to expel Lopez if he's re-elected in November and if he's criminally convicted. Prosecutors are investigating the case, and on Tuesday the state's Joint Commission on Public Ethics met behind closed doors, presumably to discuss the case. The commission wouldn't comment on its discussions.
"I would just say this incident is one isolated individual. It is not systematic," Silver said of the Lopez case. Silver is leading the Democratic delegation in Charlotte, and Democrats said they support him in charge.
Schumer and other Democratic leaders said the Lopez scandal shouldn't hurt the party's message in Charlotte or during the November elections. In addition to Lopez, Queens Sen. Shirley Huntley was indicted last month on corruption charges.
"The progress that has happened has been under the strong leadership," said Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers. "It is with a bi-partisan effort in most cases. And certainly the things that we tout as progressive has been with the Democrats in the Legislature."
Republicans control the state Senate, and Democrats have a wide majority in the 150-seat Assembly. Both parties are seeking to retain their majorities in November. Republicans hold a 33-29 seat edge and regained power in the 2010 elections, when Cuomo was elected.
Scott Reif, a spokesman for Senate Republicans, said the conference played a critical role in the successes in Albany.
"Without the leadership of Senate Republicans -- who insisted on bringing spending under control, capping property taxes, eliminating the MTA payroll tax for small businesses and schools and doing more to help the private sector create new jobs -- this dramatic turnaround wouldn't have been possible," he said in a statement.
Cuomo will speak Thursday to the New York delegation, but he has not accepted any high-profile roles at the convention. Despite speculation of a potential run for president in 2016, Cuomo said last month that he's focused only on being New York's governor.
"He's doing the people's business in Albany, which is what he is elected to do," Duffy said.