‘Sharks’ circle amid scandal

News that the City
Council would be investigating a sexual harassment claim against Councilman
Vincent Gentile (see article) reached
an inner circle of Bay Ridge politicos a week before the complaint was
actually filed, say both Democrats and Republicans in the area.

Between Sept. 14 and Sept. 22 — the day the allegations first surfaced
in daily newspapers — the story had gathered enough momentum that
at a Sunday luncheon at the Bay Ridge Manor it was the primary topic of
conversation, especially among a handful who expressed quiet interest
in a special election should Gentile resign.

Gentile, who denies any knowledge of the complaint, allegedly filed by
his male chief of staff, said this week he had no intention of resigning

Of those lining up for his seat, he said, “There are sharks in the
water every day.”

Nonetheless, following rumors of a Ridge council seat vacancy on the horizon,
a handful of Democrats on Community Board 10 spoke in confidence with
political consultants and district leaders.

Delia Schack, who is said to have called at least one political consultant
about a possible run, would only confirm that she had speculated on the
seat opening up.

“These are just rumors,” said Schack, who is married to Supreme
Court Judge Arthur Schack. “It’s something I’ve always
considered but right now it’s just rumors. It’s strictly speculation.”

Joanne Seminara, who last week was re-elected as committeewoman of the
60th Assembly District, would not comment on rumors by multiple sources
that she was considering a fourth run for the council seat.

“I think I have no comment,” said Seminara, who ran unsuccessfully
for the seat in a six-way special election in 2003 and twice before that
against Republican Marty Golden. “I don’t think anyone should
be speculating this soon. Things are said that turn out not to be true.”

Stephen Harrison, president of the American Heritage Political Organization,
confirmed that he had been approached by Ralph Perfetto, the Democratic
co-district leader, about running for a vacated seat. He, too, said that
it was too soon to speculate.

The trio would join Robert Capano, a senior advisor to Borough President
Marty Markowitz, who announced a possible challenge to Gentile last month.
This week, the Republican said that he will step down as Markowitz’s
“primary representative” so that he can focus on the election.
He said that announcement was planned in advance of the sexual harassment

Upon learning that fellow Democrats were speculating on his resignation,
Gentile said that he was aghast that less than a week after news of the
complaint people were ready to bury him.

“That’s totally inappropriate,” said Gentile. “Absolutely
inappropriate. They really shouldn’t be doing that, not now.”
Many in Bay Ridge said that the news of Gentile’s troubles seemed
to snowball.

Jerry Kassar, chairman of the Kings County Conservative Party, said he
first learned of a possible harassment complaint against Gentile on Sept.
14, Primary Election Day.

He characterized a call that evening as “extreme rumor,” but
a second call, from a more reasonable source, he said, raised his suspicions.

The rumors reached a crescendo, however, during a luncheon at the Bay
Ridge Manor to announce the Ragamuffin Parade, which is scheduled for
Oct. 2. There, he said, Democrats and Republicans were speaking freely
about the alleged scandal, at least until Gentile arrived.

“Nobody has ever seen anything in politics in this community that
has received this much attention,” said Kassar, “and I think
that’s going to have a real driving effect on what’s going to
happen in the near future.”

Elsewhere, many in Bay Ridge and Dyker Heights said they were taking a
wait-and-see attitude, and most said they hoped for the best for the councilman
and former state senator. According to Gentile staff members, dozens of
supporters, including several clergy members, called during the week to
let the councilman know they would stick with him.

“I advised him throughout his entire time in the senate and I always
saw appropriate behavior,” said Carlo Scissura, an attorney in Dyker
Heights who worked as a Gentile aide from 1996 to 1998 and advised him
through 2002.

“I never saw anything close to sexual harassment, be it male or female,”
Scissura added.

Bensonhurst Councilman James Oddo, one of only three Republicans in the
council, said that the sexual harassment complaint, the second to be filed
against a councilman this year, leaves a black eye on the body. Compounded
by complaints that Queens Councilman Allan Jennings harassed four women,
two from his own office, the newest allegations are something to be taken
seriously, he said.

“I called Vinnie, I spoke to him, just to let him know that I’m
thinking about him,” said Oddo. “You don’t wish this type
of thing on anyone, but you have to be cognizant of its impact on the
council. The circus with Jennings is an absolute embarrassment.”

As for Gentile, Oddo added: “I hope for everybody’s sake it
didn’t happen.”