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Michele Somerville Headshot

"Grabby" Vito Lopez and the Bishop in His Pocket

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I wasn't surprised to read this morning that the conduct of Democratic power broker Assemblyman Vito Lopez has finally landed him in hot water. I have been paying careful attention to Lopez, mostly in the context of his alliance with the head of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn and Queens. (I write opinion pieces about the Church and I worship in DiMarzio's diocese. See "Bishop DiMarzio May Not Want Your Lunch Money..." on Huffington Post. ) Nicholas DiMarzio and Vito Lopez have long been (to put it aptly) "thick as thieves." So tight are Lopez and DiMarzio that in 2009, the latter was willing to play fast and loose with the tax law that prohibits tax-exempt churches from electioneering. DiMarzio recorded endorsements of Lopez and these were transmitted throughout Lopez's election district as "robocalls" just before Election Day in November of 2009. (See "Heaven-Sent Robocalls..." in the November, 2009 NY Post.)

Vito Lopez has lobbied at DiMarzio's behest, to block the passing of A5488, Assemblywoman Marge Markey's Child Victims Act, which DiMarzio opposes on the grounds that it would bankrupt Roman Catholic dioceses. (The Child Victims Act will expand, slightly, the statute of limitations for reporting incidents of sexual assault perpetuated by adults against children.) Lopez et al have been successful in preventing the passage of A5488, and Bishop DiMarzio has expressed his appreciation by campaigning for Lopez's political protégés within his diocese.

Maybe now that the bishop's man in Albany is out of commission, A5488 will become law, allowing victims of juvenile sexual assault to be better able to seek just outcomes.

Lopez, himself, now stands credibly accused of sexual misconduct. While such accusations are easy to make and often impossible to prove, the choice made by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, Senator Charles Schumer, New York Speaker of the House Sheldon Silver and New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn to call on Lopez to step down suggests that there's pretty good evidence Lopez sexually harassed women in his workplace.

It's election time. Naturally Democratic office-holders, candidates and party members fear that a dirty assemblyman -- especially one as powerful as Lopez happens to be -- will prove a liability to the party. If the charge that Lopez sexually harassed women in the workplace can be substantiated, his fellow Democrats certainly will want him gone, but really they've been waiting for the flagrant and colossal sleaziness of Vito Lopez to finally catch up with him.

According to a September 22, 2010 New York Times report, Lopez was investigated by both the State Attorney General and the FBI for a range of possible violations.

The New York Daily News reported, on June 30, 2011, that Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council was "the subject of "two criminal corruption probes by the FBI and the city's Department of Investigation." Lopez founded Ridegwood Bushwick, and his live-in female companion who earns a salary that exceeds $300,000.00 a year working for the council which is designed, in theory at least, to help senior citizens secure affordable housing.

In October 2010, the New York Post reported allegations that Lopez had relocated election sites within properties he ran as a means for manipulating voting among senior citizens residing therein.

According to the Oct. 5, 2010 New York Daily News, Lopez sleeps in a district other that that he represents.

Vito Lopez has been credibly accused of fiscal impropriety, mismanaging funds, election fraud (via the duping of senior citizens, with the help of at least one Catholic priest). He pays his female companion an uncommonly high salary at a non-profit operation he founded. He stands accused of being "grabby" with young women working alongside him in his Albany office. He appears to have established a substantive and long pattern of sexual harassment which, if the groping allegations are true, could even result in his being charged with sexual assault.

It looks as if Vito Lopez has been shown the door. It's about time. I'll be glad to see this big little man disappear from the political landscape of Brooklyn where I live. I'm also glad his long overdue departure will result in the dissolution of his most unholy alliance with the top priest in the diocese in which I worship. Who knows? With one of the guys in that keep-the-world-safe-for-predators partnership out of the picture, maybe A5488 will have clear a shot at becoming law.