Assemblyman Vito Lopez is out of the hospital and he’s going back to his roots — bullying the media and his opponents in front of friendly crowds of constituents.
In his first public appearance in Brooklyn after receiving extensive radiation therapy for a recurrence of cancer, Lopez railed against city newspapers and his “enemies” in the real-estate industry in frequent digressions during an Oct. 28 meeting for loft tenants in Williamsburg.
“You need to fight the real estate industry, the establishment, the media,” said Lopez. “We have to do this collectively together. I don’t have the strength to do this myself.”
Dressed in his favorite Dodger-blue guayabera sans necktie, Lopez hosted a nearly three-hour meeting at the Green Fitness Gym on Varet Street to address landlord-tenant harassment in Bushwick and Williamsburg following the passage of his bill extending rights to tenants of illegally converted buildings.
But Lopez spent much of the meeting comparing the media’s excoriation of him and the nonprofit he founded with landlords’ harassment of loft tenants in his district.
“I don’t know how things will work out with my own health issues in the long-term, but you have got to protect your interests and your lofts,” said Lopez. “We’re going to see, really see, how this article will be written in a couple of days. My friend [state Sen.] Tom Duane said, ‘The papers will kill you and they won’t remember you the next day.’”
For the past two months, a bevy of media outlets, including this newspaper, have catalogued the operatic twists and turns of Lopez’s political career and his relationship with the Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council.
The Bushwick-based nonprofit, which Lopez founded and has steered hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer money towards every year, is the subject of two concurrent federal investigations, a widening city investigation, and an independent prosecutor’s probe of a charge of fraud by the city Department of Investigation earlier this spring.
Several media outlets have picked apart the strands of Ridgewood Bushwick’s narrative, beginning with its board’s approval of preposterously high salaries for executive director Chris Fisher and housing director Angela Battaglia, both close Lopez allies, and continuing onto the competency of the board of directors, the nature of the federal probes, Lopez’s political clubhouse, and even Lopez’s choice of residence in Queens instead of his little-used apartment in Brooklyn.
Lopez has threatened libel action over newspaper reports.
“As long as I am physically able I’m going to stand up for what I feel is right,” he said.
Playing the victim is the most-common card in Lopez’s old deck. Last year, he accused the media of turning against him as he lobbied for the passage of the Broadway Triangle rezoning plan, which is currently held up in court.
And in 2005, Lopez lashed out at the press following a Village Voice article that suggested that his campaign expenditures were similar to those that caused the Democratic Party’s prior chairman, Clarence Norman, to be indicted.
“We have the Bushwick Observer here, and we have another paper here, and then we’re going to read Aaron Short’s [Williamsburg Courier] article about how landlords are great,” Lopez said, taunting this reporter.
Lopez referred to numerous “cheap shots” in the media in recent weeks and said the “real estate industry is behind these articles.”
He also referenced “fighting the real estate industry, the establishment, the media … and someone else with long hair and glasses.”
For the record, this reporter has long hair and glasses.