Peter Vallone goes after Vito Lopez’s ‘power base’
While plenty of city politicians have recommended Vito Lopez stop his campaign for City Council, most recent among them being Mayor Michael Bloomberg, one City Councilmember has decided it’s time to take action.
Queens Councilman Peter Vallone is calling for city and state lawmakers to cut funding to the Lopez-controlled Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council, “unless Vito’s cronies step away from that organization and we get a pledge from Vito not to run.”
Lopez recently resigned from the Assembly in disgrace, after the ethics committee produced a 68-page report detailing sexual harassment allegations made against him by his female staffers. They ranged from staffers contracting pink-eye after being instructed to apply eye drops to Lopez’s infected eyes, to a female staffer being scratched “by one of Lopez’s jagged fingernails” when he tried to push his hand up her inner thigh.
“A lot of people are saying that Lopez should not run, but no one is discussing the power base that he has in that district that allows him to run and be a viable candidate,” Vallone explained.
In the most recent campaign finance filing period, $1,700 of Lopez’s contributions came from employees of the Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council.
Vallone also noted that the housing division of the organization is run by Lopez’s girlfriend, and it has consistently been peppered with his hand-picked friends and political allies.
A New York Times report last year noted that the Council’s offices close every Election Day so that employees can vote for Lopez and his chosen candidates.
“This Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council has for a long time been controlled by Vito and his cronies, and they need to go,” Vallone said. “Once they’re gone, once there’s a pledge for Vito not to run, then I think people can discuss whether to fund that group or not.”
“But until then, nobody in government should do anything to help him run and abuse other women.”
Councilmember Erik Dilan, who had several member items for RBSCC in last year’s budget, declined to comment for this story.
Another steady supporter of RBSCC with member items for the organization in last year’s budget, Councilmember Domenic Recchia, did not respond to a request for comment.
Councilmember Stephen Levin, who once worked for Lopez and also had several member items for the organization in last year’s budget, put out a statement this weekend saying he believes Lopez should “voluntarily step down.”
But Levin said today that he would not support a plan to cut or withhold funding from RBSCC to put pressure on Lopez to drop out of the race.
“The truth is they provide good services,” Levin said, noting the work the organization does with youth programs, homelessness prevention, and seniors. “And so I don’t think that it’s appropriate to allow politics to dictate what programs get funded in that way.”
Vallone conceded that “the organization apparently does some good work.”
“But so did some other organizations that were controlled by slimy elected officials,” Vallone said. “As with most villains, you have to go after the power source.”
Vallone wants to show voters that Lopez would be impotent on the Council, only harming his districts as legislators refuse to work with him.
“[RBSCC] unfortunately makes him a viable candidate,” Vallone said. “I’ve been wondering for a while why this organization, why Vito’s power base, has been unmentioned and untouched.”
Lopez’s competitor in the City Council race, Antonio Reynoso, noted to Politicker that while Lopez’s political allies outside of Ridgewood Bushwick may be falling away, he still maintains influence in that neighborhood.
Even after the ethics report outlining the abuse allegations female staffers made against Lopez, community members are apparently still standing behind him.
“Who knows if it was just someone making up lies?” one resident told Politicker.
“I don’t believe that’s true,” said another Ridgewood Bushwick resident of the sexual abuse allegations. “I don’t care what anyone says.”
The ethics report details, among others, an incident with a female staffer who Lopez coerced into massaging his hand. When the staffer began to cry, Lopez responded by saying, “I like that you’re holding my hand.” The young woman cried harder. The whole exchange occurred immediately after the staffer told Lopez she was raped in college and he responded by asking her if she “felt guilty.” He got her to massage his hand after telling her he “really believe[d] in her work” but wanted her to show more “intensity” and be more “adventurous.”
Ultimately, Vallone said he does not want a colleague who could potentially do with female staffers in the Council what the report said Lopez did with women who worked for him in the Assembly.
“He clearly does not understand that what he did was wrong, and he’ll do it again if you give him power,” Vallone warned.
Follow Danielle Tcholakian on Twitter @danielleiat