Judy Rapfogel returns to Albany as lobbyist amid calls to exclude her from influence

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Judy Rapfogel
Judy Rapfogel in 2009. Image: Azi Paybarah (CC2.0)

Judy Rapfogel, the former chief of staff of disgraced New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, has returned to Albany as a lobbyist.

Her reemergence on New York’s political scene has been met by calls for her to be ostracized by legislators.

Judy Rapfogel has returned to Albany…

Until a few years ago Judy Rapfogel was considered one of the most powerful figures in New York State politics.

As the longtime chief of staff to Sheldon Silver, she wielded an enormous amount of influence. Her husband, William Rapfogel, ran the well-connected and powerful charity, the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty.

In July 2014 things began to seriously unravel. William plead guilty to his part in stealing $9 million from his charity, of which he personally kept $3 million. He was sentenced to 3⅓ to 10 years in prison.

Six months later in January 2015, Rapfogel’s boss was indicted on federal corruption charges. In July 2018 Silver was sentenced to seven years in prison for taking over $4 million in kickbacks.

Although she was Silver’s closest aide for years, and prosecutors found $400,000 in cash inside the Rapfogel house, Judy Rapfogel herself was not implicated in either scandal. She retired with a $115,889 annual taxpayer-funded pension.

Just four years after her power-base was first shaken, Judy Rapfogel has been spotted again Albany’s corridors of power. According to a report in Forward last week, she formed a new lobbying shop with her son Michael in December and is being paid $20,000 per month by a Virginia-based nonprofit.

…and some people are not happy about it

The millions in dirty money coming through Silver’s office was not the only scandal that occurred while Judy Rapfogel was working for him.

In 2001, Elizabeth Crothers alleged that Silver’s counsel, Michael Boxley, raped her.

She reported the rape in an internal complaint to Silver. According to Crothers, Silver callously sat eating pretzels while she told him what had happened.

Boxley denied Crother’s claims, and Silver put out a statement backing him. An internal report was inconclusive, and the matter was dropped. Crothers did not file a report with the police.

Two years later, Boxley was arrested for raping another staffer. Several years later, Silver admitted regretting how he handled Crothers’ complaint.

Crothers soon moved to California, but has since returned Albany politics as an advocate for reforming the legislature’s pervasive culture of sexual harassment.

Speaking to the New York Daily News, Crothers reacted angrily to the news that Judy Rapfogel is back in Albany. She considers Rapfogel tainted by her long service as Silver’s confidante.

“I don’t think she should be invited to the party anymore,” she said. “That bridge should be burned….She should be ostracized. Legislators shouldn’t meet with her.

“It displays an amazing lot of nerve given her both public and private actions for decades to now be doing that. I think she helped [Silver] to an enormous degree. And she defended him to the end.

“I do think people should stop hiring her and stop meeting with her,” she added. “Why does she get to do that? I couldn’t.”

The Rapfogels get work to help victims

In December 2018, Judy and Michael Rapfogel set up a new lobbying firm called GrandRap Strategies. Their first client is the Victim Policy Institute, part of the National Center for Victims of Crime, who signed a one year contract with the new firm for $240,000.

“They asked if we’d be interested in working to help pass the Child Victims Act and we felt that this was a cause we could get behind and be proud of,” Michael Rapfogel told Forward.

GrandRap has been hired to help pass legislation to make it easier for victims of child sex abuse to sue their attackers in civil court.

Speaking about the size of the retainer, New York governmental reform advocate Alex Camarda told Forward, “Twenty thousand dollars per month is typically what corporations or large developers pay a lobbyist for premium services. There’s nothing improper about what they’re doing. It’s just a large contract and a big buy.”

Other abuse victims get a hearing

Along with six other legislative staffers who suffered sexual abuse and harassment in Albany, Elizabeth Crothers formed the Sexual Harassment Working Group in 2018. With their #HarassmentFreeAlbany campaign, the group has spent months lobbying for more attention to be focused on the issue.

Initially the group was mostly ignored, but following the midterm elections the hard work has paid off. Newly elected Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins has committed to holding hearings on sexual harassment in the workplace, which have been scheduled for February 13th.

“I stand here the first woman leader of a legislative house in state history,” Stewart-Cousins said in her Opening Day remarks. “And if we do this right, I cannot and will not be the last. And let my voice be clear: we need to deal with the scourge of sexual harassment in the workplace. We cannot let this moment and this movement pass and we will hold hearings and hold all accountable.”

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