The sudden resignation of Rockland County Assemblyman Ryan Karben earlier this month makes it unlikely the former political rising star will answer accusations that have emerged about his behavior with staff.
Although no formal charges were filed against Karben, 31, unnamed sources have leaked to the press that he was under investigation for conduct with subordinates considered inappropriate by legislative guidelines. That conduct was alleged to have included unwanted advances toward a male intern and watching a pornographic video with aides.
For an Orthodox Jew and married father of three who represents the chasidic villages of New Square and Kaiser as well as heavily Orthodox Monsey and Spring Valley, there could be no more severe damage to his budding political career. Karben’s Web site prominently displays photos of him with his wife and daughters.
“It’s hard to come back from a scandal like that, even if you are not guilty,” said Hank Sheinkopf, a Democratic political consultant. “It’s part of the price you pay for being in public life.”
Karben has not confirmed or denied the allegations, saying in brief statements only that he plans to spend more time with his family. He has also left the law firm Kurtzman Gurock Matera and Scuderi, where he has been practicing since he was elected to the Assembly. Firm partner Harold Gurock has told local papers that Karben left at the same time he quit the Assembly, declining to comment on the circumstances.
Karben did not answer numerous phone messages and his former press spokesman, Aaron Troodler, referred calls to the Assembly press office.
Charles Carrier, a spokesman for Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, said only that Karben “resigned citing personal and professional reasons, and we can neither confirm nor deny the existence of an investigation. The Assembly has strong policies in place to protect its employees, and alleged violations by members of the Assembly are investigated by the standing Committee on Ethics and Guidance. Violators face a range of sanctions including public censure.”
Since the Assembly has no power to take action against a private citizen, Karben’s resignation may well put an end to the allegations, unless more serious claims surface against him. “If he is not a member of the house, we could not do that,” said Carrier, referring to an ongoing proceeding.
Karben is a graduate of The Frisch School, an Orthodox day school in Paramus, N.J., as well as Yeshiva University, where he was executive editor of The Commentator, the undergraduate newspaper. He also graduated Columbia School of Law.
A former Rockland County legislator, Karben was elected to the Assembly in 2002. His sudden resignation at what should be the peak of his re-election effort — legislative primaries and general elections take place this fall — was at first seen as a suggestion that he was seeking a position in what polls show is the likely gubernatorial administration of front-running Democratic gubernatorial candidate Eliot Spitzer.
Then came allegations that Karben had fraternized with and made advances toward aides, to whom he was closer in age than most of his fellow legislators.
At the time he was elected at age 28, he was believed to be the youngest member of the Assembly.
A prodigious fundraiser who had helped the campaigns of Spitzer and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, Karben still has a half-million dollars in his coffers, which by law he must return or give to other candidates or causes. Just prior to his resignation he endorsed the campaign of Andrew Cuomo, who received the state Democratic Party’s designation this week to run for attorney general. It remains to be seen whether Karben’s cash will still be sought by candidates if his status remains in limbo, with accusations unaired.
“The smartest thing to do is leave the money in the bank until this matter fades from public view, so he does not embarrass his friends,” said Sheinkopf, who is working for attorney general candidate Mark Green. “His contribution could wind up in a piece of negative direct mail.”
Another Orthodox Assemblyman, Dov Hikind of Brooklyn, said he was “shocked” to hear about the allegations. “I fell off my seat,” he said Tuesday. “It’s very sad to see someone’s life suddenly become a public spectacle. The abruptness of it leaves the impression he wanted to run away from it as fast as possible and put it behind him.”