Voting improprieties in Bushwick last month appear to be part of a larger pattern of election fraud by poll workers allied with — and in some cases, hired by — Assemblyman Vito Lopez.
As we reported last week, homecare aides from a Lopez-affiliated nonprofit pressured voters to cast ballots for Lopez in his state committee race and a building manager from the same nonprofit filled out affidavit ballots for Lopez.
But it wasn’t the first time that poll watchers observed fraudulent behavior at the polls in an election that Lopez — the Brooklyn Democratic Party chairman — had a rooting interest.
Last year, in a race between Councilwoman Diana Reyna (D–Bushwick) and her Lopez-backed challenger Maritza Davila, a tussle occurred when a Chinese translator was removed from a Williamsburg polling site after allegedly telling Chinese-speaking voters to cast their ballots for Davila.
Reyna had already defeated Davila by 251 votes in the Democratic primary, but Davila continued the race on the Working Families Party line.
The Chinese translator had been hired by the Board of Elections to assist Chinese-speaking registered voters at the JS 250 polling station on Montrose Avenue. But he also worked as a social worker at the Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council, the Lopez-founded charity where Davila worked.
“[The translator] kept going into the booth with Chinese voters and pulling the levers for them,” said Jo Anne Simon, an attorney and former Council candidate who did election protection work at the site. “Finally the site coordinator saw it herself and put a stop to it, but several groups of seniors had already voted.”
Marty Needelman, an attorney with Brooklyn Legal Services, was at the site and observed the translator accompanying voters into the booth. He called the Board of Elections to complain, but soon found himself in a heated argument with Davila supporters at the site, including Lopez’s chief of staff Steve Levin, who won his own election to the City Council that day.
Board of Elections officials arrived, followed by an attorney representing the Kings County Democratic Party, which Needelman thought was “weird” because Davila, the Lopez-backed candidate, was actually on the Working Families Party line.
“All the people who responded from the Board of Elections’ Brooklyn office had a connection to Ridgewood Bushwick,” said Needelman, who blamed a system that allows the party’s county boss to hire poll workers.
“Poll workers are trained and selected at Vito’s club at Wyckoff Avenue,” he said. “That’s a routine thing where they are instructed, ‘If you’re not on our side pushing, we don’t need you to be a elections person.’” Lopez did not return calls seeking comment.