ALBANY — State Sen. Jeff Klein, one of Albany’s most powerful legislative leaders, denied on Wednesday that he forcibly kissed a former staffer outside an Albany bar nearly three years ago, an accusation raised in a media report.
“This alleged incident never happened nor did anything inappropriate happen,” said Klein (D-Bronx), who held a conference call, along with his partner, state Sen. Diane Savino (D-Staten Island), just minutes before the Huffington Post reported its story.
In it, Erica Vladimer, now 30, said Klein, now 57, forcibly kissed her during a night of celebrating after state lawmakers finished a late night working on the state budget in March 2015. The alleged incident took place on Lark Street, a busy street of restaurants, coffee shops and taverns just two blocks away from the State Capitol.
“All of a sudden there was a hand on the back of my head and he shoved his tongue down my throat,” she told the Huffington Post. “In my head it lasted forever, I don’t think it lasted even three seconds.”
“I pulled away and I said, ‘Senator, absolutely not.’ ” she said. “And he looked at me and said, with this stupid little grin on his face, ‘What? What?’ Like he was being coy, almost trying to flirt and play a game.”
There was no immediate comment from the Senate’s Republican majority, which could order an investigation.
Klein, the leader of the Independent Democratic Conference, which has a power-sharing agreement with Senate Republicans, called the conference call late in the day after he said he learned a story would soon be published.
Klein said the staffer never filed a formal complaint and left the IDC in May 2015 to take another job she had sought.
He said he would not step down from the Senate or as leader of the conference.
Klein said he and his staff were celebrating that night but said that nothing like what Vladimer described happened.
“I spoke to the staffer twice,” Klein told reporters. He said she started a conversation with him at the bar, asking if he would share the Passover holidays with her. He said he declined and went outside to smoke.
“She then came outside as well. We stood outside there smoking,” Klein said. “By the time it was time for me to finish my cigarette, she once against asked me to attend Passover with her . . . I declined.”
Savino, who also is a member of the IDC, said she was next to Klein at the bar and he was clearly visible through the bar’s window.
“We barely had any interaction with her,” said Savino, who like Klein wouldn’t identify the staffer. “She came over and leaned over the bar stool . . . I kind of rolled my eyes at it.”
Klein said he heard a “rumor” from another staffer the next day after the night in the bar. He denied anything happened and took no further action. He repeated there was no complaint filed.
Vladimer told the outlet she left her job after the incident.
“I will never forget the first thought in my head was, ‘Oh my god, did Savino see that? Because if she did, my life is over,’ ” Vladimer told the Huffington Post.
“The fact that there was an environment that could make me doubt the self-confidence that I worked so hard to have ― that I got from the strong women in my life ― made me feel like it wasn’t the place for me,” Vladimer said in the report. “And that maybe the government wasn’t for me.”
Klein wouldn’t speculate on any motivation for what he calls a false accusation.
“The only time I saw her after the incident was when she left,” Klein said. “She thanked me and was very excited about starting her new dream job, as she put it.”