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Vito goes double-dipping — goes for pension while still in office!

The Brooklyn Paper

Assemblyman Vito Lopez just got re-elected to a 14th term in Albany, but he wants to start collecting his state pension right now.

Lopez is one of 10 lawmakers who quietly filed “retirement” papers this month, a scheme that allows some officeholders to keep collecting their regular salaries while collecting their retiree pensions — even though they remain on the job.

For Lopez, that means taking his $92,000 state salary while taking the $88,000 annual pension that he’s entitled to upon retirement.

The controversial move is called “double-dipping” by foes, but it’s all legal, thanks to a loophole that allows legislators who are older than 65 to file as “retired” even though they continue serving in the same office.

Legal, but infuriating, said Dick Dadey of Citizens Union, the good-government group.

“It’s incredulous that legislators can draw two salaries for the same job [as] state workers are being laid off and have no salary,” said Dadey.

Unlike regular jobs, which require you to stop working before you receive your retirement pensions, Albany’s lawmakers can continue to stay on the job, earning their pensions and their taxpayer funded salaries.

Here’s how it works: A re-elected, retirement-age legislator can choose to “retire” on Dec. 31 — the end of his previous term — and then show up for work on Jan. 1 as a newly elected public official.

A 2005 law closed one double-dipping loophole, but the rule is still in effect for elected officials, like Lopez, who entered office before 2005. A bill to close the loophole entirely was introduced in 2008 and again this year, but it has not been passed.

Lopez’s chief-of-staff Debra Feinberg defended her boss’s decision to apply for a pension.

“After 45 years of public service, Assemblyman Lopez chose to apply for his pension after careful consideration of his health status and to do what is best for his family,” said Feinberg.

In a subsequent interview, Lopez, who is suffering from cancer, said that he had to make the pension decision because, “I’m not sure I’m going to live through my next term.”

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

Lopez’s pension grab raised eyebrows among reformers because it was the third salary-related scandal surrounding the lawmaker this year.

Ridgewood Bushwick dramatically hiked the salaries of its top executives, Angela Battagila and Chris Fisher, who are also Lopez’s girlfriend and campaign treasurer, respectively.

Fisher’s salary nearly tripled to $659,591, from $234,234, while Battaglia’s increased to $329,910, up from $190,609. She also draws another $54,000 as a city planning commissioner, a part-time job.

All of these salary and pension numbers are staggering compared with Bushwick’s median income, which is roughly $40,000, according to 2010 census figures.

Dadey wondered how Lopez and his allies can work in a district where “people really struggle to make ends meet,” while collecting an exorbitant salary.

“How can Lopez be affiliated with Ridgewood Bushwick, which serves people with limited needs, and take this double-dipped salary?” said Dadey. “How can he live with himself?”

This isn’t the first time that Brooklyn lawmakers have been chided over the practice of double-dipping.

Assemblywoman Rhoda Jacobs (D–Flatbush) has been collecting a $71,000 pension on top of her $104,500 salary since 2008, and defended the legal loophole during her re-election campaign this year.

And Assemblywoman Joan Millman (D–Carroll Gardens) has been taking her school teacher’s pension on top of her $92,000 salary.

Updated 03:33 pm, December, 16 2010: Includes a new interview with Vito Lopez.

Reader Feedback

Nat from Greenpoint says:
he gets away with murder....what a shame!!!
Dec. 16, 2010, 2:31 pm
Stacey from Midwood says:
With all the media bashing against someone who has a 46 year record of public service, for the poor and underprivelaged in brooklyn, he deserves a bonus.
Dec. 16, 2010, 4:07 pm
John from park slope says:
i agree with stacey, he worked for many years to get housing for low income families in bushwick, he should be allowed even to triple dip....
Dec. 16, 2010, 4:11 pm
anywho says:
And Mao and Stalin was just making things ok for regular folks with all their purges and pogroms, right?

Get real, John and Stacey. You are two schmucks.
Dec. 16, 2010, 5:59 pm
mike from park slope says:
Lopez has not only been a fighter for the poor, but he has been a successful fighter for his constituents. I have spoken to people living in Bushwick about him, and if you ask people living in his Assembly District, they will tell you that he has done more for them than any other elected official.

This newspaper is so biased against Lopez, and this article is just another obvious example. None of the other ten politicians were given this treatment. Also, after months of incorrectly printing that the Staten Island District Attorney was investigating him, it turns out that he never was. Ever. No surprise that this wasn't mentioned by this paper. Almost seems like this article was slapped together to avoid having to admit this.

And anywho, are you serious? Mao and Stalin? Go take you medication, ok? Your comment is not only foolish, and completely outlandish, but shows how ignorant you are.
Dec. 16, 2010, 10:26 pm
Anywho says:
Me outlandish? I am not the one in the news. People like you Mike, John and Stacey have no business defending Vito Lopez.

Vito Lopez could do all the good in the world, God's work...but when you do it in a corrupt manner, it ends up like sh*t.
Dec. 17, 2010, 6:42 am
Mike from Park Slope says:
Anywho, this isn't corrupt, it's legal, and the result of his decades of service. If you want to advocate for a change in the law, go ahead. But don't make things up about this being anything but completely legal.

And yes, comparing taking a pension to what Mao and Stalin did is both outlandish and stupid.
Dec. 17, 2010, 8:06 am
anywho says:
Here is another one....

There was a saying about Benito Mussolini back in the forties. He made have been a ruthless dictator, but he made the trains run on time.

If Lentol can defer his pension, then Lopez can do the same.
Dec. 17, 2010, 8:32 am

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