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Gentile staffer: ‘Vinnie pursued me relentlessly’

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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 legislator.

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 budget.

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 relations.

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.


Related Stories:
Gentile denies gay sex harrass claim
‘Sharks’ circle amid scandal


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