Sunday, January 20, 2008

Pfizer Offering Williamsburg Plant Site for Affordable Housing—So, Why’s a State Assemblyman Trying to Seize It?

January 20, 2008
The New York Observer
Eliot Brown

All of Pfizer’s plans, however, could be for naught if State Assemblyman Vito Lopez is successful in a bid to claim the site with eminent domain and develop it for affordable housing. First reported in Crain’s New York Business, Mr. Lopez, a Brooklyn Democrat, has been drafting a bill that would have the state’s housing agency acquire the site, then issue its own request for proposals so as to create about 1,700 housing units.
Mr. Lopez, the chairman of the Assembly’s housing committee, has pushed for large levels of affordable housing, often irking city officials and other legislators who consider his demands unreasonable and unrealistic. His efforts, however, received a shout-out from Governor Spitzer in his State of the State address last week, in which he praised Mr. Lopez for his commitment to affordable housing.

Pfizer, in a candid statement, said the company finds it “extremely puzzling that a legislator would propose a government seizure of private property through eminent domain to ostensibly re-develop the properties with the same types of uses we are already considering.”


Thursday, January 17, 2008

Voter Registration Coverup?






County: KINGS

Date of Birth: 6/5/1941

Gender: MALE


Party Affiliation: DEMOCRATIC

Registration Date: 1/1/1984

Date Last Voted: 11/2/2004

Congressional District: 12

State Senate District: 17

State House District: 53

Precinct: 01


64 CONSELYEA STREET 1 FL. Was own by the director Lilly Tarantino of a non profit called Swing 60’s Senior Center – According to the buzz it was one room that Vito rented in that private home.

One week after the Post article below Vito moved to Stanhope Street to a larger apartment.

Norman's Successor Facing Own Scandal

By Jim Hinch
New York Post
November, 25, 2005

Just one month after replacing scandal-plagued pol Clarence Norman as Brooklyn Democratic Party boss, Assemblyman Vito Lopez appears headed for his own tub of legal hot water.

Three activists have filed a complaint with the Brooklyn DA, alleging Lopez used a fake address on his voter-registration form and doesn't live in his Brooklyn district.

Instead, say the activists, Lopez for years has shacked up in a Queens condo owned by his Former Brooklyn Democratic party bossgirlfriend, Planning Commissioner Angela
Clarence Norman (above) was indicted Battaglia, who also happens to be executive
for four offenses. 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.

When told of the complaint, Lopez's chief of staff, Allison Hirsh, said, "I have no comment," and hung up the phone. Battaglia did not return a phone call to her commission office.

"Vito Lopez is not above the law," said Joseph Garber, one of three signatories on the complaint.

Garber, an activist in Lopez's district who has worked against Lopez-backed judicial candidates, said the pol's alleged fake address has been an open secret among insiders for years.

Garber said he and other disgusted activists decided to air the dirty laundry when Lopez ascended to Norman's throne atop the Kings County Democratic Party in October with vows to clean the organization up.

"Now Lopez is going to be the choirmaster. He'll do just like Clarence Norman, if not worse," said Arthur Steier, another signatory.

Since becoming party leader, Lopez has been throwing his weight around, recently vowing to be a kingmaker in the race for City Council speaker.

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.

Reached by The Post at the senior center, Tarantino was asked if Lopez lives at the Conselyea Street house.

"No comment," she said, and hung up

The New York Post

October 1, 2005 Saturday

SECTION: Sports+Late City Final; Pg. 2

LENGTH: 140 words


BYLINE: Jim Hinch

Political opponents of Brooklyn Assemblyman Vito Lopez are preparing to file a complaint with prosecutors that Lopez does not live at the house where he is registered to vote, but instead is shacking up with his girlfriend in Queens.
Lopez was lobbying hard this week to replace recently convicted Assemblyman Clarence Norman as Brooklyn's Democratic Party leader.
Allies of civil court judge candidate Martin Needleman, whom Lopez opposed in last month's primary, say Lopez will need to clean up his own act before replacing the tainted county leader.
Calls to Lopez's district office were not returned.
Lopez is registered to vote at a house on Conselyea Street in Williamsburg. But property records show the house is owned by Tillie Tarantino, who heads a senior citizens center operated by a nonprofit Lopez founded.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Vito Uses Slush to Fight Cancer

A top Brooklyn pol uses the pork barrel against cancer
December 26th, 2006 from the Village Voice
by Tom Robbins

The Voice questions how legislators (and Vito Lopez in particular) have a free hand in the pork barrel to benefit themselves as much as their constituents.

There's the $5,000 grant approved for Bobbi and the Strays, the Ozone Park, Queens, group that finds lost pets; there's the $10,000 for the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks in upstate Cohoes so the lodge can fix its ailing HVAC system; there's the $2,500 to erect permanent signage in Dag Hammarskjold Plaza in midtown; and the $2,000 for the German American Club in Albany so the group can finally pave its parking lot.

New York's media have always had a field day with the state legislature's "member items"­the $200 million slush fund out of which legislators are allocated a set amount of funds (calculated according to political clout) to spend pretty much as they please. This good old-fashioned pork-barrel spending is the kind of thing that greases political wheels, even if taxpayers might not see it as urgently needed. Traditionally, assembly and senate leaders kept the names of the givers secret, a move that necessitated a bit of a guessing game as to which member was responsible for which item.

But the guessing game ended abruptly this fall when the Albany Times-Union won a lawsuit to compel the legislature to identify the names of the lawmakers and their individual largesse. A new round of stories was sparked this month when the assembly and the senate published files showing who gave what over the last three fiscal years on their respective websites. The lists show that Assembly Speaker Shelly Silver and Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno were the biggest givers, doling out millions to their own favorite charities. Bruno even gave $500,000 to a for-profit technology firm headed by a close pal­a gift now under FBI scrutiny.

Most lawmakers, however, received far less to distribute, and the records show they spread their limited loot around their districts in increments of $1,000 to $5,000. The money goes mainly for respectable civic endeavors: volunteer fire and ambulance departments, community patrols, neighborhood improvement associations, libraries, schools, legal services, and veterans' needs.

By that standard, the $50,000 a year for leukemia research allocated by Brooklyn Democratic assemblyman Vito Lopez is one of the larger individual grants, as well as one that seems to put him squarely on the side of the angels. But it also dramatically demonstrates how legislators have been given a free hand to choose good deeds that benefit themselves as much as their constituents.

Lopez, who last year became the powerful leader of Brooklyn's Democratic Party, earmarked the money for the prestigious Sloan-Kettering Institute, an arm of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, a world-renowned facility.

The state grants have gone toward a study of the glucose transporter function, which was described by Dr. Mark Heaney, a leukemia specialist at Sloan-Kettering, as "an effort to study ways that cancer cells differ from normal cells in leukemia patients." In a written statement to the Voice, Heaney said, "We hope this research will one day lead to a therapy for leukemia patients."

That's something in which Lopez has an intensely personal stake. The 65-year-old assemblyman suffers from leukemia himself and has been a patient at Memorial Sloan-Kettering since 1993, when he was first diagnosed with the ailment. In an interview, Lopez, who was first elected to the assembly in 1984, said that he began making the grants shortly after he underwent treatment at the center. "I went in and got treated with heavy doses of chemotherapy, three different regimens. The last time, I almost didn't make it through," he said. "The hospital had a research project that dealt with some vitamins, and they came to me and said they needed probably a million dollars for research. And I submitted it."

Lopez said he had provided the $50,000 grants to Sloan-Kettering every year for the past decade. Initially he made them together with another Brooklyn assembly member, Eileen Dugan, who was also treated for cancer at Sloan-Kettering. Dugan died in 1996. Since then, Lopez has made the grants on his own. He said that he failed to allocate the funding to Sloan-Kettering in the current fiscal year only because he had been absent from the assembly for several months after having a heart operation.

The doctor who originally approached him for the research funding, Lopez said, was the same one overseeing his cancer therapy at the time. That doctor has since died. But Lopez, whose cancer has been in remission for 10 years, said that most of his recent checkups at the hospital have been handled by Heaney, who was listed as the research project director for the grants on the legislative forms submitted by Lopez and approved by the assembly.

"This was a renewal of an ongoing grant," said Joanne Nicholas, a spokesperson for Memorial Sloan-Kettering. "When Dr. Heaney took over the lab two years ago, the grant was already in place. It is a wonderful thing that Mr. Lopez is doing," she added.

Lopez reacted angrily to questions about his giving. He said that he had never undergone any experimental treatments himself and that he had supplied the funding because he had become "more sensitive" to the need for cancer research. "You are going to taint this because I went to the hospital?" he said. "How do you make that dirty? It's remarkable. They get it, and that's about it. I don't have much more to tell you. I guess the legislature gives research money out on a broad level. It was never a major thing."

But the grant stands out for other reasons.

Lopez represents the neighborhoods of Bushwick and Williamsburg, an area that includes some of the city's poorest areas and is located miles away from Memorial Sloan-Kettering, which is on Manhattan's wealthy Upper East Side. There are plenty of cancer sufferers in Lopez's district, but the disease doesn't strike residents in the area any more often than those in the rest of the city, health studies show. The biggest local health problem, according to a 2006 survey by the city's department of health, is asthma: Hospitalization rates for asthma attacks suffered by both children and adults in the area are double that of the rest of Brooklyn, as well as the city as a whole. Infant mortality rates are also higher than the city average, the study found. When it comes to cancer, the most alarming local health indicator, analysts determined, is that more than half of adult males in the district have not undergone colonoscopies, the all-important safeguard against colon cancer.

Lopez chairs the assembly's influential housing committee and serves on committees for economic development, rules, and social services. But he said that health has been an important issue for him as a legislator. "I sign on to every bill that talks about health, about helping people through illnesses. Is that because I became ill? Perhaps." The newly released records show that as a member of Brooklyn's assembly delegation, Lopez has joined his colleagues in steering funds to other cancer prevention programs, such as providing mammograms for uninsured women. But those grants are for small amounts of $1,000 or $2,000 apiece, and the cost is apportioned among each of the legislators.

Had he ever considered sending his annual $50,000 to other cancer research facilities? "No one has ever asked me," he responded.

The member-item data show that Lopez also didn't search very hard in choosing where else to send his annual funding. Aside from the $50,000 to Sloan-Kettering, the rest of Lopez's individual member-item grants in recent years have gone to a large nonprofit community organization in his district with which he is closely connected. Lopez has sent $130,000 annually, in three separate grants, to the Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council and one of its affiliates, the North Brooklyn Residents Association. For many years Lopez was a paid consultant to the organization. He also lives with the organization's $116,000-a-year housing director, Angela Battaglia.

Had he ever considered that as a possible ethical conflict? "No. Absolutely not," Lopez said. "I will help and continue to help programs that do a good job. That's how I feel about it. And that's a direct quote."


A powerful Brooklyn lawmaker who has delivered millions of dollars in state aid to his district is also on the payroll of one of the community groups he has funded - but won't say what he's paid to do.
Assemblyman Vito Lopez (D-Bushwick) has been a consultant to a not-for-profit housing group since 1998, earning as much as $57,600 a year, according to tax records and check stubs obtained by The Post.
Lopez's consulting fees come on top of the $92,000 annual salary he earns as a state lawmaker and committee chairman.
When asked about his role as a consultant and any possible conflict with his position as chairman of the Assembly's Housing Committee, Lopez erupted in a bizarre tirade.
"On Tuesday we're feeding 2,000 senior citizens, what are you doing?" he snapped.
"How much do you get paid?" Lopez continued. "Unless you tell me how much you get paid and what you're doing on Christmas, I won't answer your questions."
Yet even when that information was provided, Lopez still refused to discuss his consulting work or explain what the housing-management group does in his district.
Lopez even suggested The Post's questions be posed to one of his daughters. He later tried to say he was joking with that suggestion.
Lopez is among Gov. Pataki's strongest supporters in the city. He has boasted of the tens of millions of dollars that he has brought to his district annually for housing and other programs.
Groups he has founded depend heavily on state largess. His Bushwick-Ridgewood Senior Citizens Center, an umbrella group for many of the district's not-for-profits, receives $7 million a year in public funds.
Community Property Management Inc. operates housing built or rehabilitated by groups affiliated with the Bushwick-Ridgewood Senior Citizens Center. Officials at the management group did not return calls for comment.
In filings with the state's Legislative Ethics Committee, Lopez, as required by law, declared his consulting work for Community Property Management during 1998, 1999 and 2000.
In those filings, Lopez described the work as providing technical assistance for program development, but was not required to state his income.

Source Citation: "POL BENEFIT$ FROM STATE-AIDED GROUP.(News)." New York Post (New York, NY) (Dec 23, 2001): 16. New York Times and New York Post (2000-present). Thomson Gale. New York Public Library. 20 Jan. 2007