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Locals pile on Vito for ‘double-dipping’

The Brooklyn Paper
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Williamsburg community leaders slammed Assemblyman Vito Lopez for cashing in on a state loophole that allows him to collect his retirement pension while still drawing his $92,000 salary.

“There are some public officials who are guided by a passion to serve their community and others are guided by a passion for profit,” said Luis Garden Acosta, head of the Williamsburg-based arts group El Puente. “Anyone who uses loopholes to enrich himself rather than support constituents who are in dire circumstances is not guided by a passion to serve.”

Lopez and 10 other state lawmakers over the age of 65 filed paperwork this month announcing their “retirement” — but in actuality will only retire for one day and then go back to work as a “new” legislators on Jan. 1.

The move will allow Lopez, who is 69-years-old and battling a relapse of cancer, to collect his $88,000 pension — nearly doubling his salary.

A spokesman with the state comptroller’s office said that ordinary state workers cannot retire and immediately go back to work at the same job.

Lopez defended his decision to The Brooklyn Paper on Thursday, saying that he made the move because he was no longer convinced that he could beat the disease and wanted to ensure that his family — specifically his longtime girlfriend, two full-grown daughters and grandchildren — would be financially secure in the event of his demise.

“I have serious health issues and that was the determining factor,” he told the Paper. “People can challenge that, but I have 46 years in the system.”

Other Lopez allies explained that he deserved to collect his pension since he has served Williamsburg and Bushwick residents in various capacities for more than four decades.

“Vito has literally spent his entire adulthood serving the state of New York,” said Lopez spokeswoman Debra Feinberg.

But some constituents, such as Community Board 1 member David Lopez Jr. said that he was “baffled” that Lopez took advantage of the loophole to nearly double his salary.

“I would have to retire to get my pension, but Vito can collect a pension and still keep the same job,” said Lopez, who is unrelated to the Assemblyman. “That’s a double standard that separates him from his constituents. I’m saddened by this injustice.”

The nonprofit that Lopez founded — Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council — pays Lopez’s girlfriend, Angela Battaglia, a salary of $235,000. Lopez’s campaign treasurer, Christiana Fisher, is the nonprofit’s top exec. She earns $659,000.

Numbers like that had District Leader Lincoln Restler (D–Williamsbu­rg) calling Lopez’s pension move “Espada-esque,” referring to the Bronx state senator who was just indicted for siphoning money from a Bronx-based nonprofit and spending taxpayer money on himself and his family.

“Whether it’s collecting an early pension on top of his state salary, siphoning millions of tax dollars for a not-for-profit currently under investigation for fraud, or paying his girlfriend with those dollars, Lopez’s arrogance and disdain for democracy can only be described as Espada-esque,” said Restler.

Lopez is far from alone for taking advantage of the loophole. More than a dozen legislators have “retired” over the past two years, most notably Assemblywomen Rhoda Jacobs (D–Flatbush), and collect both their salaries and pensions.

Lopez’s colleague, Assemblyman Joe Lentol (D–Greenpoint), has not sought to collect his pension even though he could.

“I’m sure he’ll apply for his pension when he gives up his seat,” said Lentol spokeswoman Amy Cleary.

That decision is something that Williamsburg resident Phil DePaolo found worthy to praise.

“Good for him!” said DePaolo. “He could, he’s allowed to if he wanted to, but God bless him that he doesn’t.”

Updated 5:22 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

Mike from Park Slope says:
Seems like Lincoln Restler is the one who acts like Espada. Not only did Restler move into a district that he had no relationship with just before running for office there, but Restler has an obsession with getting his name in the paper by making outlandish statements to the media.

Comparing the illegal actions of Espada with the legal actions of Lopez, who has worked for over forty years for the same exact Assembly District both as a elected official and senior advocate, and who it turns out ISN'T being investigated by any agency, is unfair and a clear sign of this paper's bias. I mean, come on, this article is almost identical to the one you posted yesterday, with a few new quotes included. Is this what passes for journalism these days?
Dec. 17, 2010, 8:14 am
Mike is also Steve Levin says:
"Katie" turned into "Mike." Steve Levin is still trolling the comments section in defense of Vito Lopez. Because he can't, he won't and he don't stop.
Dec. 17, 2010, 10:46 am
Ben from bushwick says:
he gets away with murder....what a shame!!!
Dec. 17, 2010, 11:10 am
Mike from Park Slope says:
I'm not Steve Levin - just someone who thinks this is unfair.
Dec. 17, 2010, 11:26 am
Mike is Steve Levin says:
No, you're Steve Levin.
Dec. 17, 2010, 12:59 pm
I'm Steve Levin from Yassky says:
Actually Lopez - like Espada - doesn't live in the district either. He lives in Queens with Battaglia.
Dec. 17, 2010, 1:10 pm
Mike from Park Slope says:
Honestly I'm not Levin, don't work for Levin or for Lopez. It is funny that you think I have to be Levin. Couldn't I be at least a few other people?

For what it's worth, all this petty nonsense won't make a difference. Lopez knows that his constituents support him, and in the end that's what really matters.
Dec. 17, 2010, 8:09 pm
o'malley from charlestown says:
Levin should retire for more than a day.
Dec. 18, 2010, 10:13 am
VIVA VITO LOPEZ! from williamsburg says:
I don't care what anyone says about Vito Lopez! These stories are such BS! Vito never even said that!

Aaron your stories are so stupid! I'm sure you could have found Lopez allies instead you quote his chief of staff. This is called selective journalism!

I love how accessible all of the anti-vito crowd is to you. Vito farts and all you instantaneously have a quote from Luis Garden Acosta, David Lopez, Lincoln Restler, Diana Reyna, Nydia Velazquez, Esteban Duran!! Give me a break, you might as well be on their pay roll!!
Dec. 20, 2010, 12:43 am
Jimmy from Bushwick says:
Ha HA Ha. Vito gives a big FART and Aaron and company shriek I'm gonna tell vito to FART louder now so you guys would run for the hills
Dec. 20, 2010, 12:54 am
eff the machine from bushwick says:
maybe lopez and his girlfriend should get real jobs and stop stealing HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS from cash strapped taxpayers.

seriously - have you ever been to bushwick?! so many families here live in poverty. lopez and battaglia should be ashamed of themselves. and don't give me that crap that they help people at rbscc -- it's one of the most wasteful non profits out there with the most pitiful bang for the buck. and every effing building is covered with a disgusting "thanks you vito lopez" sign. gag me with a spoon.
Dec. 22, 2010, 11:31 pm
Bob from Williamsburg says:
If Vito retired, another person would have to take his place and the State would be paying the same amount! The State is paying no more. A pension is part of a contract, and Vito is getting the benefit of the contract. Maybe the State needs to change the law or renegotiate these deals! Vito's record of cleaning up Bushwick and providing services to the poor, families, children, and elderly speaks for itself. What has Restler ever done for Bushwick? What has Short ever done for Bushwick?
March 4, 2011, 2:23 pm

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