Scandal-scarred Assemblyman Vito Lopez is losing his ironclad grip on borough politicians, as leaders who never dared cross the influential Democratic boss are defying his wishes now that he’s stepping down from his party post due to a sexual harassment investigation.
Assemblyman Joe Lentol (D–Greenpoint) — a former Lopez supporter — made it clear that the Bushwick pol no longer runs the show by endorsing Democratic district leader Lincoln Restler, Lopez’s bitter rival.
“I wanted to endorse Lincoln from the start, but knew Lopez had problems with him,” said Lentol, who came out swinging for Restler in his reelection campaign for the obscure party post against Lopez-backed candidate Chris Olechowski. “I wanted to respect Lopez.”
Lentol — who claims he actually helped Lopez attain his top Democratic party spot in 2006 — said it’s time to move past Lopez’s strong-armed style of leadership.
“You can’t have a Democratic party that exists by fiat,” said Lentol, who added his name to the long list of borough politicians calling for Lopez to resign from the Assembly. “I believe this community can leave behind the petty politics that have seeped in over the past few years.”
And Lentol isn’t the only Democrat now willing to cross Lopez.
Warren Cohn, who ran against Restler in the 2010 election with Lopez’s blessing, also came out in support of his former rival.
“Lincoln has worked incredibly hard for the community,” said Cohn. “He has earned my respect and deserves to be reelected. I know that he will continue to deliver results and help establish new leadership in Brooklyn.”
And Brooklyn political insider Hank Sheinkopf expects other Democrats will emerge from the shadow Lopez cast over Brooklyn politics.
“More people are going to start doing things they wouldn’t have done before,” said Sheinkopf. “People outside of his district have no reason to have an allegiance to him anymore.”
In just a few week’s time, Lopez went from the party’s dear leader to Brooklyn’s Typhoid Mary, with even his closest allies distancing themselves from the 14-term incumbent after the Assembly’s Ethics committee booted him from an influential housing post when staffers complained about attempted kisses, unwanted advances, and repeated orders to write love letters expressing their gratitude to the party boss.
Lopez is giving up his gig as party boss, but he remains on the Assembly ticket and will run unopposed in a Sept. 13 primary.
Restler was pleased to win the backing of Lentol — a politician he has long considered a mentor even though they didn’t publicly enjoy each other’s support until Thursday.
“There’s not a person I’ve learned more from than Joe Lentol,” said Restler.
His opponent, Olechowski, said he is disappointed by Lentol’s endorsement and distanced himself from Lopez, who has put his support behind the Community Board 1 chairman.
“I have no reason to feel there should be backlash,” said Olechowski. “I run my own campaign and raise my own funds. I’m very proud of what I’m doing here. I have people who support me.”