City Councilman Barry Grodenchik was summoned to a hearing before the Standards and Ethics Committee Thursday for a hearing on alleged sexual harassment — and was immediately stripped of his position from the Budget Negotiating Team by Speaker Corey Johnson and may lose his leadership position as well.
“Earlier this year, at the end of a meeting where we were finalizing important legislation, I am told that I briefly shook hands and hugged several people involved in the process and thanked them for their hard work and diligence,” Grodenchik said in a lengthy statement. “I have since been the subject of a complaint that this action made an individual uncomfortable, and as a result, the Speaker has decided that I should be punished by being stripped of my Chair of the Parks and Recreation Committee.”
Sources say Grodenchik’s removal from his chair is a recommendation by Johnson that needs to be confirmed by the full City Council in a vote that has yet to be scheduled.
“No one should ever be made to feel uncomfortable in the workplace and singled out for unwanted attention,” Johnson said. “The Standards & Ethics Committee investigated and deliberated over this matter very carefully.”
Johnson went on to state that his decision to remove Grodenchik from his chairmanship was made “in light of their decision to formally charge Council Member Grodenchik and launch disciplinary proceedings against him.”
Grodenchik stated that he never intended to make anyone feel uncomfortable, and that he “sincerely” apologizes “if my actions had that effect.”
“For me, as is true for many of my colleagues, a hug is a common greeting for people I have known for a long time, but as others do not feel that way, I will certainly be more sensitive to that in the future,” he added.
The development comes a day after former Vice President Joe Biden vowed to be “more mindful” of others personal space after a weeklong media frenzy that followed a complaint from a former Nevada assemblywoman. Lucy Flores claimed Biden had touched her inappropriately, smelled her hair and kissed her head in 2014.
Nonetheless, Grodenchik was flummoxed by Johnson’s decision.
“The Speaker’s actions in my case are an over-reaction, with an excessive punishment that is harmful to this body,” Grodenchik said. “Harassment is a real issue that we need to address, but we have to have some common sense and reasonableness about what is intended by someone’s actions. Whie we need to change some traditional behavior, we must do so without punishing people for being human and without ruining lives and careers.”
Grodenchik represents the 23rd Council District which includes Bayside Hills, Bellerose, Douglaston, Queens Village, Fresh Meadows, Hollis and Little Neck among other neighborhoods. He was elected to the City Council in 2015 and re-elected in 2017. He served in the state Assembly following more than a decade at Borough Hall.
“I have spent 25 years in public service. For nearly two decades of that time, I worked for four amazing and strong women,” Grodenchik said. Those women included an Assemblywoman and three Presidents of the Borough of Queens, My only goal has always been to simply help people. During my career, I have never in those three decades been accused of any misdeeds. I will certainly take the lesson of what has been brought to my attention and use it to grow as a person, but I will not allow the good name my parents gave to me to be dragged through the mud for this single action, as the Speaker well knows, was never intended to make anyone uncomfortable.”
Grodenchik closed his statement with an appeal to his colleagues in the City Council to stand up for him “and reject the Speaker’s attempts” to remove him from his leadership position.