Gubernatorial hopeful Andrew Cuomo just can’t seem to shake Vito Lopez.
The Democratic candidate for governor made the rounds stumping for votes in Brooklyn on Sunday, stopping at a church in Clinton Hill in the morning and visiting four different Hasidic rabbis in Williamsburg in the afternoon — when he was ambushed on the street by Lopez, the Assemblyman that he is investigating.
“Cuomo was very uncomfortable with it, he was totally disappointed with being seen with him,” said Moishe Indig, a Hasidic leader who met with Cuomo on Sunday. “This is not the publicity he needs to be affiliated with Lopez.”
Lopez was invited by Rabbi David Niederman, executive director of the United Jewish Organizations, to attend three of those holy meetings with the leaders of three Hasidic sects, which Cuomo had been invited to attend earlier.
“Whenever politicans come to see the rebbe, local politicans are invited,” said Abe Deutch, an advisor to Niederman. “We look at it as, you come to Williamsburg, you come to meet the rebbes. Then Vito was invited.”
But Cuomo did not appear to have approved the invitation or even known about it in the first place and his campaign staff told members of the media assembled on the street that they did not want pictures of Lopez with the candidate.
“You have a guy being investigated and written on every day, and here you have Vito running after Cuomo,” said Gary Schlesinger, a Hasidic leader. “Cuomo must be crazy angry.”
Calls made to Cuomo’s campaign office about what was discussed at those meetings were not returned for comment, and Cuomo declined to comment to a WNYC reporter on Monday about the nature of those meetings.
The attorney general’s office, under Cuomo’s command, has been reviewing an audit submitted by the Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council, a nonprofit Lopez to which remains closely aligned, to determine whether the nonprofit is in compliance with state law or whether the contracts should be frozen.
On Sunday morning, Cuomo declined to speculate when the review would be finished, only saying that it was ongoing.
Both Mayor Bloomberg and Gov. Paterson have held up millions of dollars of city and state contracts to Ridgewood Bushwick — pending Cuomo’s review.
According to a Paterson spokeswoman, Ridgewood Bushwick has 331 open contracts worth a total of $82 million, $55 million of which remains undisbursed.
The city and state’s actions were the latest move in a widening city investigation, which found questionable billing practices and fraudulent activity from the nonprofit’s employees.
The city’s probe also found that Ridgewood Bushwick’s board members were ignorant about its finances yet approved the sky-high salaries of its two top executives, Angela Battaglia and Christiana Fisher, who earn a combined $1 million.
Lopez and Ridgewood Bushwick are also the subjects of two separate federal investigations led by offices known for prosecuting political corruption.
No wonder Lopez, who publicly confirmed that he is being treated for a recurrence of cancer, spent Sunday running after Cuomo in Williamsburg like a spurned ex-girlfriend (even to the point of hastily parking illegally in a bus stop).
Cuomo may not want to be associated with Lopez, but Cuomo may need the Brooklyn party boss, political insiders assert, because of his ability to gin up votes in Brooklyn.
“Cuomo is in the position of investigating, but Vito is saying, ‘I’m going to deliver Brooklyn for you, so you better be nice to me,’ ” said one political insider.
Calls made to Lopez’s office regarding the meetings with Cuomo were not returned.