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In senior center fight, a loss of Vito power? - Brooklyn Paper

In senior center fight, a loss of Vito power?

Pointed barbs: Assemblyman Vito Lopez repeatedly interrupted a community meeting this week to blast the media and his “enemies.”
Community Newspaper Group / Aaron Short

Three senior centers linked to scandal-plagued Assemblyman Vito Lopez are among those targeted for closure by the city, a sign to some City Hall insiders that the Brooklyn Democrat’s legendary influence is on the wane.

The centers, managed by Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens’ Council — a nonprofit that Lopez founded and to which he maintains close ties — were on the city’s list of 105 senior centers to be shuttered after Gov. Cuomo cut $25 million in state aid.

A Council source said that it was no accident that the Lopez-linked centers ended up on the hit list.

“Two years ago, the city wouldn’t have come anywhere near Ridgewood Bushwick,” said the source. “[Vito and Ridgewood Bushwick] lost their immunity.”

The Bushwick-based nonprofit runs six senior centers and received more than $5 million in contracts from the Department for the Aging last year, according to city records. It’s currently the subject of several city and federal probes.

Those centers are the core of Lopez’s power base.

Lopez visits the centers regularly and hosts meals there during major holidays. Some of the centers even serve as polling sites on Election Day — where seniors helped by Ridgewood Bushwick repeatedly cast their ballots for Lopez in overwhelming margins.

Two of the three Ridgewood Bushwick centers facing closure were embroiled in embarrassing scandals last year.

In April, an employee was arrested for defrauding the city of $4,000 by falsifying attendance sheets for programs at Hope Gardens. She pleaded guilty eight months later.

The arrest sparked a city investigation into Ridgewood Bushwick’s finances and led to the demotion of its chief financial officer.

Last October, a Post investigation found that the city gave land to Ridgewood Bushwick for a new senior center, then paid $360,000 in rent to the nonprofit to use the property.

At the time, the city defended the new senior home, calling the Bushwick-based Diana Jones center a “state-of-the-art facility that seniors love.”

Yet the Diana Jones, along with Hope Gardens and Atlantic Senior Center, is now among those scheduled to shut down in July.

A city spokesman said closures were based on which centers serve the fewest meals. But he declined to release attendance records or estimate how much the closures will save the city.

Lopez, a longtime Assemblyman and the Democratic Party’s county leader, has vowed to fight the shutdowns.

He appeared at both Hope Gardens and Diana Jones last Thursday, announcing that he had “saved” the centers from closure, according to a source.

But a Department of Aging spokesman said the list of centers has not changed.

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