VOLUME 3, ISSUE 340 | September 30 -October 6, 2004

POLITICS


Gentile Fights Back

Brooklyn councilman calls harrassment charges “false, frivolous”

By PAUL SCHINDLER

In the wake of a lengthy public statement last Thursday from a former male staff member who has alleged “entirely inappropriate” harassment on the job, Brooklyn City Councilman Vincent Gentile issued a defiant public statement calling any claims of harassment “utterly false and frivolous” and warning that any further “personal attacks” could be met by his instructing his attorney “to take appropriate action, which may include investigation by higher authorities in order to remedy or address any malicious accusations.”

“There appears to be a witch-hunt underway driven by the political agenda of some individuals,” Gentile said in a written statement released by the Advance Group, a Manhattan public relations and lobbying firm. “To that I say enough is enough. I will not play their game.”

John Martin, the Gentile chief of staff who has filed a complaint with the City Council’s Equal Employment Opportunity counsel, detailed his allegations against the councilman in a four-page press release issued by his attorney, Paul F. Callan. The statement details an ongoing pattern by which Martin claims that Gentile tried to forge a personal relationship with his staff member, including four occasions on which he offered Martin, who had just broken up with his girlfriend, the opportunity to move in with him. Gentile also persisted in pressing Martin to spend evenings over at the councilman’s apartment or going out for drinks or movies and insisted that Martin allow him to assist in his move into his new apartment or to help in doing renovation work there, according to the press release.

On each occasion, Martin claimed that he had to delicately extricate himself from Gentile’s offers out of concern over his job.

Martin described one evening when he agreed to go out for beers with Gentile, after which the councilman walked him home and asked to come in to see the apartment. Martin said he spent 15 minutes trying to forestall Gentile’s entry before finally saying, “God damn, o.k.” At that point, Martin said Gentile retreated.

Martin said that later Gentile tried to invite himself along on a trip he was taking to a wedding in Maine, arguing that he could share the driving and hotel costs and amuse himself during the wedding itself. Martin said that he rebuffed the councilman, but that when he returned to work after the trip, Gentile had turned hostile and combative, complaining about his staffer’s work.

Martin said that when he complained about his treatment, Gentile agreed to have a third-party arbitrate their disagreement, but that the councilman chose a paid political consultant unnamed in the press release. Martin said he was dissatisfied when the consultant sided with Gentile and decided to resign.

“The repeated overtures to come to my apartment, attend movies, have drinks in the evening, share hotel rooms, and to live with him were an overly intrusive and obviously improper intervention in my personal life,” Martin’s statement concluded. “This harassment left me with no choice but to resign from a job that I loved, that of chief of staff to a New York City Councilman. “

Nowhere in the press release does Martin describe any physical contact between Gentile and himself. In fact, the statement does not even contain the words “sexual harassment,” though that is the characterization the story has had in the press.

Early reports of the complaint led Gentile to say that he is not gay.

“I am not gay,” Gentile said in a telephone interview with Gay City News the day that the story broke on WCBS, during which he emphatically denied that he engaged in any harassment or behavior that could be construed as such. Asked if he had ever had sex with another man, Gentile responded, “No. It is not a lifestyle I seek or desire or live, even as much as I support gay issues.”

Last Wednesday, Thomas Shanahan, who has a Manhattan law practice in which he has litigated numerous gay and transgender discrimination cases, told Gay City News that he and Gentile had a consensual sexual affair during the councilman’s first run for public office in 1994, a campaign Shanahan said he ran.

Shanahan said he helped Gentile raise money in the gay community and had his pledge that as a state senator he would support the Sexual Orientation Non Discrimination Act, the gay rights bill, when it came up for a vote. However, in December 2002, when the measure passed, just one month after losing his Senate re-election bid and a month before entering a special election for his Bay Ridge City Council seat, Gentile, among only three Democrats in the Senate, voted against SONDA.

Shanahan explained he was coming forward now with the account of his relationship with Gentile as “a matter of principle.”

Gentile’s office referred calls seeking comment about Shanahan’s statement to his attorney, who did not return a phone call from Gay City News.

Though the City Council will not confirm any details of pending complaints, Martin’s charges will first be reviewed by a committee composed of senior Council staff, including the general counsel, and then be referred to the Standards and Ethics Committee, made up of councilmembers and chaired by Jackson Heights Democrat Helen Sears.

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