Williamsburg residents received a higher calling last 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 the election this past Tuesday.
The “robocalls,” composed by the Catholic Citizens Committee, a Dyker Heights-based lay nonprofit dedicating to “defendingand 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.
Brooklyn/Queens Diocese spokesperson Monsignor Kieran Harrington said that the automated calls must be taken “at face value” and “an expression of gratitude in this last legislative session.” He emphasized that no candidate was invited to speak from Church pulpits during the campaigns and that neither Bishop DiMarzio nor the diocese worked on behalf of any candidate in the election.
Lopez had backed Maritza Davila, a Democratic District leader in Bushwick who lost in the general election race on Tuesday to incumbent Councilmember Diana Reyna (D-34) by 4,000 votes.After mounting a strong challenge two months ago in the Democratic primary, Davila did not concede defeat, instead choosing to continue her campaign on the Working Families Party Line.
Both Reyna and Davila have concentrated their efforts on securing Catholic voters by visiting multiple parishes in the district and distributing literature after mass commenced.
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.
“The old policy was better. The Catholic Church should not get involved with politics,” said Solano after the election. “It doesn’t work in the Catholic Church, not in this community.”
Political consultant Hank Sheinkopf said that DiMarzio was likely acting as independent individual, 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.“(The 34th District election) will be a test in this district whether the church has the power to perform as an entity.”
But Harrington saw the results of the election differently and said the Church looked forward to working with all elected officials to improve the quality of life of parishioners, no matter who won.
“We will continue to express our gratitude to those that have sought to assist the Catholic community and make our complaints known when we have been dealt with unfairly,” said Harrington.