It’s been a banner year for Assemblyman Vito Lopez (D–Williamsburg) punctuated by the highs of winning a near-unanimous election to lead the Brooklyn Democratic Party and the lows of, well, just about everything else. Let’s take a look back at the year that was, and always will be, for Vito Lopez.
Kingmaker: Fresh off enjoying his protégé Councilman Steve Levin inauguration at City Hall, Lopez entertained another potential candidate for higher office — would-be Sen. Harold Ford Jr. — at Cono’s Restaurant in Williamsburg. Reporter Andy Campbell delivered the best Lopez-related lede of the year, “The path to the Senate obviously goes through the stomach of Assemblyman Vito Lopez” — and it was only January.
Sour on Domino: Developers behind the plan to rezone the former Domino factory for 2,200 units of housing encountered their first major obstacle in April when Lopez and Levin announced that they oppose the project unless it contained more affordable units and was significantly smaller. Both lawmakers lobbied the developers and Mayor Bloomberg to scale down the project, but were largely ignored by the time the City Council approved the rezoning in June.
Fraud!: Tyress Crespo, an employee at the Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council, a nonprofit that Lopez founded, was arrested after confessing to falsifying attendance sheets and attempting to bilk the city out of $4,000 — which spurred a four-month-long Department of Investigation probe into the charity’s bookkeeping and board of directors. Eight months later, the employee pleaded guilty to the charges.
Bedfellows: Brooklyn political reformers assembled a slate of candidates for the county’s state committee races, led by New Kings Democrat Lincoln Restler, with the goal of toppling Lopez from his perch, but Lopez amassed a counter-slate of candidates to challenge longtime reform leaders such as Jo Anne Simon. Naturally, Lopez triumphed.
Lofty win: Gov. Paterson signed an extension of the Loft Law, a bill Lopez had worked on for 10 years to extend rental protections to tenants in illegally converted industrial warehouses in Bushwick, Williamsburg and Greenpoint. It’s a big victory for Lopez, though some residents grumbled that they might eventually pay higher rental fees if landlords pass the costs of building upgrades onto them.
Hostel environment: The legislature passed another Lopez-sponsored housing bill — this one aimed at cracking down on illegal hotels and hostels that have proliferated throughout North Brooklyn. The bill comes four months after several Williamsburg hostels were raided by the city following anonymous complaints over noise and belligerence.
One big happy: Lopez further extends his reach into Brownstone Brooklyn when Levin appoints Lopez’s chief of staff to the board of Brooklyn Bridge Park.
Money honeys: Two top executives at Ridgewood Bushwick, who remain Lopez’s closest confidants, got huge pay hikes — and they were out of scale compared to other nonprofit leaders in Brooklyn. Then the Department of Investigation report was leaked, revealing that the board that approved the increases was made up of elderly seniors who had no financial expertise and could barely name the leaders who were running Ridgewood Bushwick.
Inside baseball: Lopez wins re-election as state committee leader in the Democratic Primary, but his two candidates in Boerum Hill lose and Restler beats the Lopez-backed candidate Warren Cohn.
Tough week: Lopez was easily re-elected to another term as party chairman, despite demonstrations earlier in the day. Later, news leaks that Lopez is again fighting cancer , which he acknowledges publicly a week later. In the same week, we also reported that a Ridgewood Bushwick janitor was allegedly fired from his job because of his political allegiances to a Lopez rival.
Under the microscope: Both state and city comptrollers announced that they would be reviewing all Ridgewood Bushwick’s contracts, and Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said he would be reviewing the nonprofit’s audit in the wake of reports of two federal investigations into the nonprofit’s finances and connections with Lopez’s political office. And Gov. Paterson froze $25 million in state contracts, though Mayor Bloomberg quietly funded $135 million worth of contracts.
Surprise!: Cuomo makes a quick stopover in South Williamsburg to meet several Hasidic rabbis with only a few weeks remaining in his gubernatorial campaign — and guess who’s waiting for him outside the shul?
Media matters: After cancer treatments, Lopez was his fiery self, discussing the Loft Law at a town hall meeting where he shamed city officials into responding more quickly to landlord harassment — but he also took a swipe at his friends in the media.
Home away: Reporters begin asking questions about Lopez’s summer home in Long Island after it was reported that the mortgage on the home listed Lopez’s primary residence as Queens, despite voting in Brooklyn.
Talking turkey: Lopez spent Thanksgiving with a few hundred of his closest friends, serving hot meals to 800 Bushwick seniors on Stanhope Street and another 2,500 to homebound seniors.
Papal bull: Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of the Brooklyn Diocese announced plans to close Our Lady of Montserrat in Bedford-Stuyvesant, prompting two priests and multiple parishioners to blame Lopez for meddling to close the church because its outspoken pastor opposed some Lopez initiatives.
Friends 4-ever: The fascinating Levin-Lopez relationship develops another wrinkle when Levin allocated $800,000 of capital funding to help Ridgewood Bushwick convert a Bushwick building into a senior home — seemingly at the behest of Lopez. Then, three weeks later, Levin hires a Lopez-friendly Bay Ridge district leader as his legislative director.
Double-dip: Lopez is pilloried for filing to receive his retirement pension while still collecting his $92,000 salary — in effect doubling his pay.
You’re not welcome: Lopez celebrated Christmas much in the same way he did at Thanksgiving, serving manicotti, meringue, and meatballs in red sauce to 800 seniors and another 2,500 homebound residents — and his lackeys threw us out of the event, even though Lopez himself personally invited us.