Thursday, December 21, 2006

Vito Lopez Continues the Corruption

In the past I have touched on the sad corruption in my own Brooklyn Democratic Party. Well, since then the head of this corrupt machine, Clarence Norman, was convicted on several corruption charges. That is progress. But the new head of the Brooklyn Democrats is Vito Lopez, who was a close ally of the now convicted Clarence Norman, is the new Democratic Party Boss for Brooklyn. Meet the new boss? Same as the old boss? According to Vito Lopez and his allies, Vito is untainted by corruption and will be a reformer. But, sad to say, this is not true. Vito Lopez is nothing more than a more organized version of Clarence Norman's corruption.

Vito Lopez was an integral part of Clarence Norman’s corrupt machine, and together they did their best to ruin the career of reform-minded judge Margarita Lopez Torrez after Lopez Torres refused to appoint a crony of Vito Lopez.

From New York Civic:

Ironically, it was the actions of ex-Assemblyman and Brooklyn Democratic leader Clarence Norman, until his felony conviction in fall 2005, and Assemblyman Vito Lopez, his successor, that began the chain of circumstances that led to this decision. When Margarita Lopez-Torres was elected to a county-wide Civil Court in Brooklyn in 1993 on the recommendation of Vito Lopez, she rejected every job applicant sent to her by the county organization, including Mr. Lopez' daughter who sought employment as a law secretary. The payback for this defiance was the county's refusal to designate her for re-election when her term expired in 2003. She ran anyway, winning re-nomination in a sharply contested Democratic primary. The next year, she sought the county designation for Supreme Court Justice, which was decided by a judicial convention, not a primary. Predictably, the county organization turned her down although she was among the longest serving judges on the civil court.

In the spring of 2005 the position of Surrogate suddenly became vacant when Justice Michael Feinberg was removed for corruption by the Court of Appeals, upholding the recommendation of the Commission on Judicial Conduct. You can find details of l'affaire Feinberg on our website; just google his name. The vacancy thus created came in time to be filled by a primary. Three candidates competed, and Judge Torres won by an extremely narrow margin, some 200 votes.

And from the Daily News:

Brooklyn's ex-boss, convicted felon Clarence Norman, and its new Dem boss, Assemblyman Vito Lopez, did their best to knock Lopez Torres out of a Civil Court position and to block her from a more powerful Supreme Court seat. To her credit, Lopez Torres kept running for Supreme Court and became the public face of reform…

There's a good chance the state's party bosses will use Albany to recapture control of the judge-making machinery. (Four out of five of the city's Democratic county bosses, after all, are members of the Assembly.)

That means reform-minded political clubs and ambitious but honest lawyers need to hit the streets and start campaigning for Supreme Court - this year, while the historic window of opportunity is still open.

In addition to the cronyism that got Margarita Lopez Torrez in trouble with Vito Lopez, Vito has favored his girlfriend with lucrative development deal in 2004 and gave his girlfriend’s brother a judicial position. From Lambda Independent Democrats:

The lengthy lead story in the Real Estate section [of the NY Times] credited Lopez with sparking a massive rebuilding effort in Bushwick, way back when he was a graduate student in 1971, and then carrying it through. The story also mentioned that Angela Battaglia's agency is the developer for a $20 million component of the rebuilding effort. It even pictured Lopez and Battaglia standing together in front of new housing construction. But the story omitted that Battaglia is Lopez's girlfriend. Does that connection at least deserve mention? Might the article have explained why there was or wasn't a conflict of interest present? Was it a coincidence that Lopez's girlfriend's outfit was put in charge of the $20 million deal? Inquiring minds would like to know. It may well be that everything was done on the up-and-up. But given Lopez's tendency to do favors for his friends-for example, he helped make his girlfriend's brother Jack Battaglia a Civil Court judge-the Times should have explored the question.

And despite claims from Vito Lopez and his followers that the new boss is different from the old, not convicted, boss, so far Vito Lopez has been right there in the middle of the judicial corruption of the Norman machine.

From the Daily News:

Livin' la Vito Lopez

Declaring that he saw no evil and heard no evil, former Brooklyn Democratic boss Clarence Norman says he can speak no evil about corruption among the borough's judges. He'll not be talking to District Attorney Charles Hynes anytime soon, so hopes for quick disinfection have faded for the moment.

Just as dispiriting, party regulars chose as the convicted Norman's successor Assemblyman Vito Lopez, an old-time ward heeler from Bushwick who has never shown a zeal for reform until, gee whiz, now. He vows the party will consult a panel of learned men and women, such as Brooklyn Law School's dean, about picking quality judges.

We've seen this movie before, and the ending stinks. Two years ago, Norman and party district leaders, Lopez included, pledged they would never support a candidate for a judgeship who had not been approved by an independent screening commission. This year, for the first time, the panel reviewed Civil Court candidates.

And guess what? The party shoehorned two lawyers onto the bench without any screening. Kenny Sherman, son of district leader Roberta Sherman, will get a 10-year Civil Court term without so much as a primary. And Canarsie Assemblyman Frank Seddio was awarded an uncontested ballot line for Surrogate's Court. So much for quality control. So much for keeping your word.

And Vito Lopez has his own legal problems. From the November, 25, 2005 NY Post via Judicial Accountability:

Instead, say the activists, Lopez for years has shacked up in a Queens condo owned by his girlfriend, Planning Commissioner Angela Battaglia, who also happens to be executive director of a housing nonprofit Lopez founded.

A spokesman confirmed that the district attorney had received the complaint, dated Oct. 24, but declined to say if an investigation has begun.

Falsifying a voter-registration address is a felony…

Property records show that the address where Lopez is registered to vote, 64 Conselyea St. in Williamsburg, is owned by a woman named Tillie Tarantino.

Tarantino is executive director of the Swinging 60s Senior Center in Greenpoint, which is funded by a Lopez-backed nonprofit…

Vito Lopez seems embroiled in corruption and cronyism on a level similar to the kind I rail at the Bush Administration and Republicans for. Considering Vito Lopez a reformer is similar to the Republicans declaring Tom DeLay’s replacement, John Boehner (R-Ohio), a reformer. It just isn’t true! I don’t believe apologists for Republican corruption and I refuse to believe apologists for Democratic corruption either. The Brooklyn Democrats are in desperate need of reform and Vito Lopez is NOT the person to do it except through his indictment for his own corruption.
Daily Gotham

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