Monday, February 18, 2002


Bushwick's veteran state assemblyman, Vito Lopez, has filled his campaign war chest with tens of thousands of dollars from developers who have landed contracts to rebuild burned-out sections of his Brooklyn district, state election records show.
The outpouring of support, about $30,000 from one consortium alone, has left the Democrat with a war chest of $437,154 - although he hasn't faced a serious opponent in his last three campaigns.
Lopez has the largest campaign coffer of all but one state assemblyman from the city: Majority Leader Sheldon Sil-ver of Manhattan.
Despite his electoral prowess, Lopez holds a fund-raiser every spring, although he hasn't faced a primary challenge in the overwhelmingly Democratic district in the last three elections.
He won his latest election, in 2000, for a ninth two-year term, by a staggering 16,195 to 241.
But Lopez defends his fund-raising, saying it's necessary to prepare for the possibility of a tough challenge.
"I would assume that if you had a difficult race that it would cost about $200,000 or $250,000," he said. "It is good and smart to have enough money to cover that."
Campaign-finance reports dating back to 1999 show that Lopez has voraciously raised funds from development and construction companies, many of which have done work in his district.
The Democrat's most generous backer are companies and individuals associated with the Bluestone Organization, a firm that recently won city contracts to build 300 housing units at the former Rheingold brewery site.
Bluestone, working with an array of social-service organizations run by Lopez, has been the developer of several government-subsidized projects, including a $47 million nursing home that opened last year.
Officials at Bluestone did not return calls for comment.
Lopez insisted that he does not have a role in selecting builders for projects sponsored by social-service groups he founded, including the Ridgewood-Bushwick Senior Citizens Council.
"They do not pick the builder, and I do not pick the builder," he said of his nonprofit groups, which have sponsored the construction of more than 1,000 units of new housing in Bushwick.
Lopez, the chairman of the Assembly's Housing Committee, said that the selection of developers is made by the city's Department of Housing, Preservation and Development.
Without a serious opponent, most of the campaign spending Lopez engages in is for restaurant tabs, the $500 monthly lease fee for a Honda and credit-card bills.
Lopez defended the spending, saying he buys flowers for community groups or constituents and that he often takes constituents to meals after neighborhood meetings, when he picks up the check.
New York Post, 2/18/2002

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