We offered Assemblyman Vito Lopez repeated opportunities to explain his decision to collect his retirement pension while also taking his normal salary as a legislator. He declined. But we did get him on the phone for this sprawling interview with Editor Gersh Kuntzman:
Vito Lopez: I want to talk about this: Dec. 31 is the end of the 421a subsidy and that would stall or hinder affordable housing development. It’s a major, major issue. And Wednesday [Dec. 22], we’re having a rally at Flatbush Gardens. And this Saturday, we’re having the largest Christmas holiday event, which I think is somewhat positive.
Gersh Kuntzman: And as I told you I was sending a reporter and a photographer to those events.
VL: Good, good.
GK: And regarding 421a, why don’t you write an Op-Ed about that, too?
VL: Too? What other Op-Ed would you like to have?
GK: I’d love to have one about the pension filing.
VL: I think you wrote about it. You wrote about the fact that my constituents should vote me out of office.
GK: That was an editorial by the editorial board. I am begging you to do the Op-Ed about the pension filing because it is your chance to have 450 unedited words explaining what has become a controversial thing.
VL: Sir, I’ve talked to [Manhattan Assemblyman] Denny Farrell and he said, “There are now more than 25 people taking this benefit, and the only person being attacked for it is you.”
GK: Not true.
VL: Not true, sir?
GK: We have written editorials about [Assemblywomen] Rhoda Jacobs and Joan Millman taking their pensions while still in office.
VL: I’m very comfortable with my rationale and I’ve explained that to you. My obligation is to my family and to my health. Someone said to me that he reads your paper, and there are many things going on in Brooklyn and the only thing they are fixated on is Vito Lopez. He said there’s nothing about Brooklyn Bridge Park and all the other things going on. You’re the Brooklyn Paper, there is a lot happening.
GK: Assemblyman do you really think we aren’t covering the Brooklyn Bridge Park and Atlantic Yards and other issues?
VL: I don’t read your paper, so I couldn’t tell you. But people — extremely sharp people — think differently. They think you are fixated.
GK: Me personally or the paper?
VL: You personally.
GK: I’m not, actually. What I’m fixated on is getting the word out as to why you want to do this particularly thing with the pensions. I’m offering you 450 unedited words …
VL: Listen, sir, I’m 47 years in the system, I have serious health problems, and I’m not going to elaborate. That was a decision I made because of the question, “What happens if I die in office this term?” You want me to write that?
GK: Yes, I do because people are asking questions I can’t answer because I’m not you.
VL: People are asking questions? Brooklyn Heights is asking questions about me? Other people have other questions: Why don’t they write about Lincoln Restler spending $85,000, carpetbagging out of Brooklyn Heights and moving into a district to run [for district leader]?
GK: Assemblyman, with all due respect, you’re doing what your office always does. When we have questions, your office always says, “Why don’t you look at [Councilwoman Diana] Reyna? Why don’t you look at [Rep. Nydia] Velazquez.”
VL: You’re not going to cover Reyna. You’re not going to cover Nydia. The question is balance.
GK: I’m asking you for balance, 450 unedited words, there’s nothing more balanced than that, Assemblyman.
VL: I want you to do balanced reporting on 1) the affordable housing crisis that we have and 2) a man who will be marching on Wednesday for workers despite his health problems. The union is excited; in their minds I’m a hero. Why have I never seen that?
GK: We will be there on Wednesday.
VL: I have a lot on my plate, affordable housing is the thing I’m putting all my energy in, that’s what I do very well. I don’t take vacations like other legislators do. I have three hearings in the next five weeks, some people don’t have three hearings in the whole year. That’s not me selling it; Brooklyn should know that. People see through a lot of what you’re saying, but people know how hard I work and what I’m going through health-wise, and I guess they don’t like when I continually have my guts ripped out of me. I know it’s not the newspaper, it’s the editorial. So I guess I owe you an apology. My point here is that there are very pressing issues: Affordable housing is going to come to a stop, employment is a big issue, 421a expires. Rent regulations — big, big issue. We’ve been meeting people to see how do we address that. We’re thinking even marching over the Brooklyn Bridge as a vigil for affordable housing and rent regulations. That doesn’t make much of the papers, but that’s some of the stuff we’re doing. Everyone knows about the pension plan, everyone knows that it’s an option people have. I don’t need to convey and talk about my illness and my family. I’m not going to do that. That’s personal, not public. Around the holidays you want me to talk about my health condition and how maybe I won’t make it through the next two years? You wrote an editorial that said that the people shouldn’t re-elect Vito Lopez.
GK: You obviously disagree with the findings of the editorial; all I’m offering you is an unedited chance to explain that.
VL: You offered me that, and it’s a very nice offer and I want to say thank you. But I’m offering you things I’m working on right now, on crises in affordable housing and if you want to work on those issues, they are news worthy and extremely signification, I’m willing to work to do that with you. … But I don’t read your paper.
GK: Assemblyman, I would argue that’s part of the problem here.
VL: Look, sir, you know what you’re doing. You’re smart. I’m not going to go there. I will send you Op-Eds on issues that are important to the borough. But I’m not going to have a back-and-forth with you about a subject that you have already written about. Have a good day.