September 16, 2010; Source: The Brooklyn Paper | To say it’s outrageous doesn’t even begin to express the reaction to a story in The Brooklyn Paper that lays out—in eye-popping detail—how a New York State legislator has made sure his campaign treasurer and girlfriend are both well-compensated for jobs at a nonprofit he founded.
The newspaper reports that Christina Fisher, who serves as treasurer for Assemblyman Vito Lopez, earned $659,591 last year in her other job as executive director of Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council, a social service agency that the legislator founded. On top of that, Angela Battaglia, Lopez’s longtime girlfriend, who works as both a planning commissioner and as Ridgewood Bushwick’s housing director, was paid $329,910 in 2009 by the nonprofit, a whopping 73 percent increase over the previous year.
Salaries of other nonprofit peers don’t even come close to matching what Fisher and Battaglia earn. For example, in 2008, the salary for the executive director of another neighborhood-based housing nonprofit was $120,000 and it paid its housing director $81,167. One of Lopez’s political opponents appropriately characterized these salaries as “obscene.” District Leader-elect Chris Owens added that if the agency “can afford to pay an administrator $659,000,” then it is “almost on the verge of not being a not-for-profit. This is a rip-off of the public.”
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An earlier examination of the group’s practices by the New York Post found that many of its board members did little more than rubber stamp the salaries for the two overly compensated executives. One director couldn’t recall how the salaries were approved and said they weren’t even discussed at quarterly board meetings.
The news story also details other ways Ridgewood Bushwick appears to serve Lopez’s political ends as well as enrich his friends. Many of the senior centers and housing complexes “also conveniently double as polling locations, giving its elderly residents the privilege of not having to leave the building to re-elect Lopez.” In addition, the nonprofit’s employees are excused from work on primary and general election days to help get voters to the polls. Like we said, outrageous doesn’t quite cut it. Anyone have a better word?—Bruce Trachtenberg