Gentile staffer: ‘Vinnie pursued me relentlessly’

Four days after filing a sexual
harassment claim with the City Council, an aide to Councilman Vincent
Gentile broke his silence, revealing that he had been on the receiving
end of “constant and unremitting” advances from the Bay Ridge

John Martin, Gentile’s 26-year-old chief of staff, claims in a four-page
statement that the councilman had relentlessly extended invitations to
movies and bars while also suggesting that the aide, 20 year’s Gentile’s
junior, share an apartment with him.

“I looked forward to assuming the responsibilities of this important
and challenging position,” Martin said of his promotion to chief
of staff in June. “Sadly, Mr. Gentile’s treatment of me as both
an employee and as a human being has caused me to submit my resignation.”

Martin had initially submitted a letter of resignation to Gentile that
gave as his reason for leaving his intention to study for the Law School
Admission Test. The resignation was to be effective Sept. 28, but someone
leaked word of the harassment complaint to the press causing Martin to
cut short his final week at the district office, where he had worked for
more than a year.

In the statement, Martin outlined a list of instances in which he said
Gentile made inappropriate advances, most of which took place outside
of the district office.

Among the allegations in Martin’s statement was an attempt in August
by Gentile to be included in a personal trip to Maine that Martin was
planning for a friend’s wedding. Martin alleges that after Gentile’s
persistent suggestions that the two take the excursion together and share
a room, the councilman cited a colleague who had earlier suggested that
Gentile take time off work.

“‘[Park Slope Councilman] Bill DeBlasio has been telling me
that I need to take a break and go on vacation. If we both go up there
together, we could save money by sharing a hotel room, and don’t
worry about having time for yourself. You can just read and take a nap
or whatever you want. Your friends don’t have to know about it and
no one at work has to know about it either,” Martin quoted Gentile
as saying.

“The councilman was extremely persistent and I viewed his conduct
as utterly and totally inappropriate,” Martin said. “When I
finally said ‘no,’ yet again, he replied by saying, ‘Whatever.’
But he was obviously very deflated by the rejection.”

Martin also charges that Gentile persistently asked him to move into his
apartment after Martin broke up with a girlfriend with whom he had been
living. He said he turned down the councilman’s offer no less than
four times. After he found a new apartment, Martin claims, Gentile continuously
insisted that the staffer allow him to help move in.

During the Republican National Convention, in August, Gentile invited
Martin to come over to his apartment to watch President George Bush’s
acceptance speech. Martin declined, instead suggested they meet at a Bay
Ridge bar to watch, saying in his statement: “I frankly felt more
comfortable dealing with Councilman Gentile in a public place than at
his apartment.”

“Unfortunately, the councilman refused to meet me at the bar …
but instead insisted upon meeting me in front of my apartment,” Martin
said. From there they went to the bar. Afterwards, Martin claims, Gentile
walked him home and inferred he could get him money from his district

Said Martin, “When I arrived at the front door of my apartment building,
Councilman Gentile pointedly mentioned that he had received more money
in his personal budget and that I might be able to benefit from that money.
He then asked to come inside my apartment.”

Martin has retained attorney Paul Callan, a Manhattan-based lawyer who
represents such stars as Leonardo DiCaprio and Quentin Tarantino. Callan
said that Martin was considering lawsuits against Gentile and the city
based on the grounds that Gentile had created a hostile work environment.
Callan said that because the city is technically the employer of council
members that it, too, would be included in the lawsuit, typically filed
in federal court.

“We’re still exploring it,” Callan told The Bay Ridge Paper
on Friday. “He hasn’t decided yet. It will depend largely on
how Gentile publicly reacts. If he’s straightforward about what’s
happening, that may be enough. I’m disappointed about his denials
that harassment occurred and I think an apology is in order.”

He added: “One of the critical factors will be based on the candor
and honesty with which Gentile publicly addresses these allegations. If
he tries to spin this and create a false story then the result will be
a lawsuit.”

In a statement, Gentile characterized Martin’s claims as part and
parcel of a larger political agenda, but he stopped short of suggesting
Republicans had waged the attacks.

“Once again, any suggestion that my interactions with John Martin
amounted to harassment is utterly false and frivolous,” Gentile said
through a statement released by The Advance Group, a consulting firm he
has retained.

Gentile declined to address the specific allegations but said he has retained
a lawyer to defend him against the charges.

“I will not dignify every rumor and malicious innuendo. I welcome
this investigation of the facts to expose these frivolous and absurd claims
and to that end, I have now retained counsel whose expertise is in employment
and discrimination law.”

The statement from Martin was released Thursday. Hours later, the weekly
Gay City News published an article on its Web site that alleged a consensual
affair between Gentile and a gay civil rights lawyer who had worked on
his first campaign for state senate.

The lawyer, Thomas Shanahan, did not return repeated calls for comment.

Gentile stated this week that he is not gay and has never engaged in homosexual

In the Gay City News article, Shanahan said that his decision to reveal
the alleged affair, which he claims happened in 1994, stemmed from his
anger over Gentile’s vote against the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination
Act while in the state Senate.

“I helped him build bridges and raise money in the gay community,”
Shanahan was quoted as saying. “He assured me he would vote for SONDA
in 2002.

“He turned his back on the community,” Shanahan added. “This
is a matter of principle.”

Spokespersons for Gentile did not return calls by press time to comment
on the allegations by Shanahan.

On Friday, Thomas Bello, a civil rights and employment lawyer retained
by Gentile to handle the complaint, said Martin’s allegations fail
to rise to the level of sexual harassment and also suggested that the
former aide’s story has been constantly changing. Initially, he said,
the complaint consisted of only several charges but had grown to include
a much longer list of allegations.

“His allegations are changing daily,” said Bello. “They
started out to be a few instances, none rising to the level of sexual
harassment. And that he stayed on even after sending his letter of resignation?
That doesn’t sound like someone to me who’s enduring a hostile
work environment.”

Bello, a professor at Columbia University, said that he would contest
the council’s decision to seal the charges, which he said Gentile
has not yet seen.

“This has opened the windows for everyone who has a political agenda,
like the gay rights groups that are bitterly opposed to Gentile because
of his vote against SONDA. All they’re doing now is seizing on this
opportunity,” said Bello, who added that Gentile only yesterday received
a one-page notice of the complaint.

He also said that the council should recuse the Equal Employment Opportunity
officer, Saphora Lifrak, investigating the charges because she has a pending
sexual harassment case against Queens Councilman Allan Jennings.

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