The saga of Richard Paoletto, facing a second sexual harassment claim in five years while serving as a city councilor on the public payroll, has ramifications beyond his professional career. The reality is, in most situations of this type involving public office, he’d be fired from his paid position. If this were Joe Blow facing a second charge, and perhaps even a first, he’d be canned if the allegations have credibility.
The affable Paoletto, one of the senior members of the city’s legislative body as well as deputy director of Housing and Commercial Code Enforcement and a Democratic Town Committee member from the Upper East Side, has been generally a loyal soldier to Mayor Bill Finch.
And that creates a sticky situation for the mayor as Labor Relations Director Larry Osborne, also a Finch supporter, weighs the allegations made by a college intern against Paoletto and appropriate sanctions. Finch does not want to hand political opponents a campaign gift as he positions for a third four-year term next year.
Finch critics argue Paoletto was given a pass following the 2010 charges that produced a suspension without pay spread out over many weeks to soften the financial hardship against Paoletto.
Inside City Hall, Finch political operatives wonder about the public fallout for anything less than termination. Keep Paoletto on the payroll and Finch risks castigation for coddling a multi sexual harasser. It provides campaign opponents an instant issue to pummel the mayor who has $300,000 in the campaign bank and no publicly declared opponents in the game beyond a whole bunch of potentials sniffing around for support.
In 2007, despite revelations involving his prior substance abuse, then Mayor John Fabrizi still had the party apparatus behind him and a majority of the Democratic electorate as he sought another term. Things changed in the spring of 2007 when Fabs sought court leniency on behalf of a sexual offender who was friends with his son. The electorate freaked, a poll showed Fabs could not defeat party outsider Chris Caruso in a primary and the political established bailed on Fabs. Party leaders then recruited Finch as the endorsed mayoral candidate. He won a tight primary against Caruso.
Paoletto is suspended with pay pending review of the assertions. The city may wait on issuing a decision about Paoletto for a few more weeks. His mother passed away just before Thanksgiving.
Either way, potential public fallout has not escaped Finch’s political operation.
And then there’s the other question: what action, if any, will Paoletto’s peers on the City Council take if he’s punished for a second time?