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Brooklyn Democratic Party boss Vito Lopez is under fire this week — and for good reason: The longtime Assemblyman from Williamsburg and Bushwick simply can’t keep politics out of government.
Lopez has long treated his personal political ambitions as a fourth pillar of government, but this week, that pillar may have finally started to crumble.
Consider this week’s revelations:
• The top official at the nonprofit Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council — the Lopez-founded charity that still enjoys his taxpayer-subsidized largesse — got a 182-percent raise last year, bringing her salary to $659,591, almost six times what similar nonprofit leaders make. Oh, one more thing: She’s Lopez’s campaign treasurer, too.
• The number two official in the agency, Angela Battaglia, got a 73-percent raise and now makes $329,910. Oh, one more thing: She’s Lopez’s girlfriend and a member of the powerful City Planning Commission.
• A city investigation found evidence that a Ridgewood Bushwick employee falsely sought reimbursement from the city for “anger management” workshops that were never provided, double-billed two city agencies for expenses incurred in the phantom anti-gang program, and opened her own sham nonprofit.
And last month, Lopez called a city official to pressure him into providing documents for an election law case against a political rival, a blatant “abuse of power” in the words of one good-government activist.
It’s all part of a pattern for Lopez, whose nonprofit is not a charity, but a power base in the classic machine sense.
It’s all documented in Nicole Marwell’s seminal book, “Bargaining for Brooklyn.” That tome is a decade old, but one of its findings — that Lopez’s nonprofit is on a permanent campaign that serves Lopez’s political needs — remains as true today as when Marwell uncovered it.
Workers at Ridgewood Bushwick frequently work on political issues in their off time, making the nonprofit a classic stepping stone to political power. Current Councilman Steve Levin worked at the charity before becoming Lopez’s chief of staff and then winning his own election last year.
And a Ridgewood Bushwick janitor is now claiming that he was fired last year after charity officials caught him speaking in support of Reyna at a rival political clubhouse.
It’s all so ugly.
Make no mistake: There are many things to like about Vito Lopez.
The longtime lawmaker is one of the most progressive power brokers in Albany, leading on issues such as affordable housing, caring for seniors and protecting loft tenants.
But Lopez’s bare-knuckled approach to politics — one that many voters may think died with Tammany Hall or other urban machines — is destructive to democracy.
Like Lopez, it must go.
©2010 Community Newspaper Group
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