No Surprise: Vito Lopez’s Charity Under Investigation

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November 20, 2011; Source: New York PostNew York Assemblyman Vito Lopez is something of an old-time political boss in Brooklyn. Part of his political empire is a charity he founded called the Ridgewood-Bushwick Senior Citizens Center. Two investigations, one a report from the City’s Department of Investigation, the other an audit from the Human Resources Administration, have taken the nonprofit to task, aiming to oust its executive director, Christiana Fisher, who has run the organization since 1980 (not long after it was created by Lopez). One element of the city’s concern is that Fisher’s compensation rose from the very healthy level of $336,000 in FY 2008 to an astronomical $782,000 in FY2009. Fisher claims to have been underpaid for years and says that her raise was authorized by the board of directors, but many board members have no recollection of discussing additional compensation, much less having signed resolutions approving the raise. Fisher also serves as Lopez’s campaign treasurer. Also on staff in a senior position (housing director) is Lopez’s girlfriend, Angela Battaglia, whose compensation rose from $198,000 in FY2008 to $343,000 in FY2009 (in addition to the $54,150 she collects as a city planning commissioner). Apparently, documentation of the raises couldn’t be found, so Fisher said she “recreated” them for investigators, a task that troubled representatives of Mayor Bloomberg’s administration as much as the compensation levels themselves. The reports also describe accounting and reporting irregularities in the organization’s administration of city contracts it holds. The New York Post characterizes Lopez’s interactions with the Center as the “Pork-Barrel Polka”.

Some Brooklyn progressives are considering challenging Lopez in the upcoming elections, and, like every year, Lopez is trying to establish liberal bona fides to outweigh criticism of his ongoing political depredations. This year’s technique strikes us as particularly odious. In late October, Lopez assembled a collection of his supporters and marched across the Brooklyn Bridge to join the Occupy Wall Street protesters in Zuccotti Park. Some of his adherents joined him in leading the march while wearing “Assemblyman Vito Lopez” sweatshirts, though most were reluctant to speak to the press about the substance and depth of their allegiance to Occupy Wall Street. Apparently unable to give a clear statement about his motivation to lead the march, Lopez said to the press: “Write about how this was a successful march, I’m done.”   

Sorry, Assemblyman Lopez, but attaching yourself to the protests as an “Occupier-for-a-day” doesn’t wipe out your continuing fast and loose behavior with your Ridgewood-Bushwick vassals. –Rick Cohen