Williamsburg residents have been receiving a higher calling this week: an automated message from Brooklyn Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio urging voters to support Assemblymember and Kings County Democratic Chair Vito Lopez and his candidates in next Tuesday’s election.
The robocalls, composed by the Catholic Citizens Committee, a Dyker Heights-based nonprofit dedicated to “defending and protecting the Church from unjust, unwarranted, and unfair attacks in the public arena and preserving religious freedom for all Americans” were blasted out to registered voters in the 34th District (Williamsburg, Bushwick) on October 29.
The message does not mention any candidates by name, referring instead to Lopez’s record in the State Assembly supporting the Catholic Church’s policy agenda.
“Bishop DiMarzio did thank you calls on behalf of Vito Lopez, for all his support in the Assembly. No endorsements, just a thank you call,” said George Prezioso, Catholic Citizens Committee Chairman of the Board.
Calls to the Brooklyn/Queens Diocese for comment were not returned by press time. A volunteer at Lopez’s office said he did not know anything about DiMarzio’s message.
Lopez has backed Maritza Davila, a Democratic District leader in Bushwick who lost the Democratic primary to Incumbent Councilmember Diana Reyna (D-34) by a mere 251 votes.
Davila did not concede defeat, instead choosing to continue her campaign on the Working Families Party Line, setting the stage for a dramatic rematch on November 3.
Reyna supporter Rob Solano, Executive Director of Churches United for Fair Housing, and a longtime Catholic activist in Williamsburg, was informed about the robocall by a family friend.
“I’m saddened that my Bishop is taking time out of his day to support a local political agenda and not take time out of his day to take care of the housing crisis in this community,” said Solano.
Political consultant Hank Sheinkopf said that DiMarzio was likely acting as an independent individual. The calls were similar to the phone calls that black ministers have made for candidates in the past, though he noted that it was unusual that Catholic clergy were making robocalls.
“In the past, the Catholic Church’s approval or disapproval has resulted in victory or defeat,” said Sheinkopf. “This will be a test in this district whether the Church has the power to perform as an entity.”
Both Reyna and Davila have concentrated their efforts on securing Catholic voters by visiting multiple parishes in the district and distributing literature after mass commences. The candidates are expected to attend several mass services during the final weekend of the campaign.