A former staffer is suing Councilman Vincent Gentile (D–Bay Ridge), alleging the lawmaker harassed him for his Apserger’s syndrome.
Michael Bistreich, 28, filed a $10-million suit against the city and the senior lawmaker on Dec. 6 alleging Gentile and office staffers made fun of him for his condition, called symptoms such as a physical tic annoying, and bizarrely covered his desk in mutilated stuffed animals.
Bistreich had volunteered for the councilman’s 2013 re-election campaign and then started on the payroll as legislative and budget director in February 2014. But soon after, Gentile and his chief of staff started harassing Bistreich, the suit claims.
In response to physical tics associated with the autism-spectrum disorder, Gentile allegedly told Bistreich “You annoy me” and repeatedly bugged Bistreich about finding a medication to control his twitching.
The suit also claims that Gentile’s chief of staff covered Bistreich’s desk in “mutilated stuffed animals … Teddy bears that were decapitated with one head mounted on a small flagpole, and a stuffed dog that was gutted and impaled and had red coloring around its slit stomach, mouth, and eyes to resemble blood” after Bistreich told the office he derives emotional comfort from stuffed animals.
The suit further alleges that Gentile and another employee mocked Bistreich during a press conference about Avonte’s Law — the law enacted to safeguard schools to disabled students after autistic 14-year-old Avonte Oquendo wandered out of his Queens school through an unlocked door and drowned in the East River in 2014. Another former staffer not named in the suit joked that Bistreich should “test the doors” and Gentile began laughing and clapping his hands, the filing alleges.
Bistreich is seeking $10 million from the city, but his main objective is to make sure that no one else has to go through the distress that he did, he said.
“The only real result that I sincerely hope for is that other people like myself, and who might be in fear for other reasons, for religion or race, never have to go through this kind of humiliation working for a public official ever again. Regardless of how high up they are, they should be held accountable,” said Bistreich.
Bistreich quit Gentile’s office in June 2016 after he couldn’t bear the brunt of any more harassment — he had been demoted several days before, the suit says.
Council is reviewing the case, a spokeswoman said.
Gentile said he will go along with the investigation.
“I take this matter very seriously and will review the complaint with legal counsel,” Gentile said in an e-mailed statement.
It is not the first accusation from a staffer against Gentile — former chief of staff John Martin filed a complaint with Council in 2004 claiming that Gentile harassed him by “making repeated overtures to come to [the staffer’s] apartment, attend movies, have drinks in the evening, share hotel rooms, and to live with him.” Council investigators conducted an 11-month investigation and found no evidence supporting Martin’s claim, and Gentile recently said Martin made the claims because he was disgruntled at the time.
Gentile is exploring a run for Brooklyn District Attorney.
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Separately, former Gentile communications director Justin Brannan is leaving his current job with the Department of Education at the end of the year to explore a run for the term-limited Gentile’s Council seat.
Brannan is president of the Bay Ridge Democrats and has served as the Department of Education’s intergovernmental affairs director for the last year. Before that, he handled messaging for Gentile from 2011 to 2015.
©2016 Community News Group
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