Assemblyman Vito Lopez “abused” his office when he called a city employee and asked him to provide documents that he wanted to use in a bid to kick a political opponent off the ballot this year.
Good government groups blasted Lopez (D-Williamsburg) for placing a call to Housing Authority Intergovernmental Affairs Director Brian Honan last week, reminding him to appear in court and bring information regarding the leases of his opponent’s campaign workers.
Lopez is head of the Assembly Housing Committee and is invaluable to Honan on a variety of state legislation. That relationship colored the whole interchange, said Susan Lerner, the executive director of Common Cause, a government watchdog.
“The head of the housing committee calling a city agency [in an election case] is an abuse of power,” said Lerner. “It’s not a courtesy reminder. It is an attempt to use his own personal political purposes for political gain and that’s improper. It looks like an attempt to intimidate the witness.”
Citizens Union Executive Director Dick Dadey agreed, saying that Lopez’s actions in the race were “outrageous” and “mind-boggling.”
“He may have abused the power of his office by requesting a city employee to participate in a political election dispute,” said Dadey. “It crosses a line.”
The concerning incident began last week when Lopez, who is also the chairman of the Kings County Democratic Party, sued Esteban Duran, his primary challenger for a district leader position, alleging that Duran’s nominating petitions contained widespread fraud and should be invalidated.
Civil Court Judge Carolyn Demarest subpoenaed Honan, the housing authority staffer, to bring in copies of Duran volunteers’ leases in public housing buildings to verify that those petition collectors actually lived where they claimed to. Honan said the reminder call from Lopez troubled him.
“I wanted to know as little about this as possible,” Honan testified. “I’m involved in government work, not in political work. [But] our general counsel said, ‘We have to provide the leases because we’ve been subpoenaed.’ ”
Lopez and Honan typically discuss bills, but this time the topic was evidence that Lopez needed for his legal challenge against a political opponent. Duran’s attorney, Leo Glickman, said Lopez crossed the line by calling Honan and asking “about those subscribing witnesses.”
In addition, Lopez’s assembly staff members volunteered for the legal challenge, rounding up witnesses to testify against Duran and spending several days in court to observe and assist the proceedings, which was revealed during witness cross-examinations.
But those efforts were for naught.
Last Friday, Judge Demarest dismissed Lopez’s motion, writing that Lopez was unable to prove that fraud occurred.
Lopez appealed the case and a hearing for oral arguments in appellate court occurred on Tuesday. The court’s decision was expected on Thursday, as we went to press.
Lopez did not call us back.