Gov. Cuomo slapped Brooklyn Democratic Party boss Vito Lopez, picking a longtime rival of the powerful Assemblyman to run the state’s housing agency.
Cuomo nominated Assemblyman Darryl Towns (D–Bedford-Stuyvesant) last week to run an agency in charge of affordable housing — Lopez’s passion — in an effort to antagonize him.
He also believes that the cancer-stricken Lopez’s career as a housing advocate and lawmaker, in its fifth decade, is winding down, sources familiar with the appointment said.
Once he takes over the agency next month, Towns will control the funding spigot for affordable housing projects — including Lopez’s political base, the Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council, which received four contracts worth $811,000 last year.
Lopez (D–Bushwick) has exerted tremendous influence over the state’s Department of Housing and Community Renewal over the years — he orchestrated the appointment of a former staffer, Deborah Van Amerongen, as its commissioner in 2007.
Publicly, everyone is playing nice — but Cuomo is known to be wary of Lopez. As attorney general, Cuomo led the audits into the Lopez-founded Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council, investigations that briefly caused the state to freeze funding to the nonprofit.
Lopez has called allies in Albany to complain about Cuomo’s appointment of Towns, said one source, and Towns recently told one public official that he “hated” Vito and was willing to work with insurgent political clubs who opposed him.
The bad blood stems from more than a decade of political brinkmanship between the Towns family and Lopez’s clique.
Lopez recruited and ran former Councilman, now state senator, Martin Dilan against Towns in an Assembly primary 1998 and 2000 — even though Dilan was once Towns’s campaign manager.
And about three years ago, Lopez demanded that pharmaceutical giant Pfizer fire its lobbyist, Karen Boykin-Towns, Towns’s wife, because the company did not set aside the property of its former headquarters for affordable housing.
Enraged, Towns confronted Lopez in Albany demanding an apology, according to several sources.
“They argued, they confronted each other in the hallways, and Towns said, ‘What’s up with that and my wife? You crossed a boundary. How dare you?’” said a source.
Towns later said that Lopez’s demand was “an attack on the corporation,” not on his wife. Boykin-Towns was later promoted.
Debra Feinberg, a Lopez spokeswoman, said that chatter over the appointment of Towns does not change the essential fact that “Assemblyman Vito Lopez has been an outspoken voice in Albany in advocating for restorations and increases in allocations for affordable housing programs in the budget. He looks forward to working closely with Assemblyman Towns … and hopes that by working together, well-established and vital programs continue to be able to be funded throughout the state of New York.”
It’s almost as if Towns put out the same statement.
“Assemblyman [Lopez] and I have a history of being very successful when we work together,” said Towns. “There have been times when we have differed on opinions.”