The NY Post reports: Assemblyman Vito Lopez bullied and cajoled eight little old ladies during an arm-twisting session aimed at getting them to back his candidate in a Brooklyn judicial race, a shocking audiotape obtained by The Post reveals.
“I’m not a fool or stupid, all right?” the Democrat railed at the elderly community leaders. “I can’t always give and get smacked, give and get smacked . . . I am the political leader.”
The May 2005 conversation, captured on a hidden recorder, not only exposes the 69-year-old Lopez’s heavy-handed tactics in dealing with his core elderly supporters but also offers a rare glimpse into the backrooms of bare-knuckle Brooklyn politics where Lopez reigns.
“I’ve been around a long time,” Lopez tells the women. “And the only thing that’s worth credibility — the only thing I have that’s worth something — is the politics. That’s how I get the money.”
Lopez called the hourlong meeting at his district office to get the women to support civil court judicial hopeful Richard Velasquez — once a lawyer for the senior-center nonprofit empire Lopez founded — in his race against lawyer Marty Needelman. The election was seen as a leadership test for Lopez, who was on the verge of becoming the Democratic Party boss for all of Brooklyn.
He explosively references this power play — and the competition between Hispanics and Hasidim in the area over housing — at one point blurting, “If no one respects my leadership, how do I fight the Hasidim?”
The Spanish-speaking women all came from South Williamsburg, where Needelman was popular with Hispanics. Lopez explains he needs Velasquez to win because “I made a pledge to people that the next [judge] would be Hispanic, right? To balance it.”
The women aren’t swayed, telling Lopez that they like Needelman and that voters don’t care about race or, for that matter, the fact that Lopez is “Italiano.”
Lopez uses strong-arm tactics, repeatedly mentioning two upcoming taxpayer-funded trips he hosts, suggesting only supporters can go.
“I want to take people on the trip who really don’t like me?” he says. “I mean, that’s stupid, right? That’s what I’m trying to say.”
Lopez then hints to one of the women, who had worked as a $225-a-day poll worker, that only Velasquez supporters will get the coveted gigs on Election Day. Poll workers are legally prohibited from trying to influence voters.
“If I put people in the polls to be poll watchers and the candidate that [Lopez’s political] club backs is not backed by those people, how can I do that?” he says.
Later, he says, “Either people are with the club or not with the club.”
At one point, Lopez suggests that if the votes for Velasquez fall short at PS 19, the polling site nearest the women, he will punish the entire neighborhood.
“Say Richard Velasquez wins, and most people think he will. He wins. But the only place we lose is over here, 19. If you’re me, who do you help out? Do you help out the area around here, or do you help the people in Lindsay Park? It changes everything to me,” he says.
In October 2005, five months after the meeting, Lopez was anointed Brooklyn’s Democratic Party chair, promising to “bring political respectability” and judicial reform.
Velasquez, who had been rated “not approved” by the city Bar Association, was elected to the bench a month later.
But Lopez’s efforts to recruit the women did not pay off.
Needelman — who told The Post that Lopez once considered him “part of the family” but became “obsessed with total control” — won easily at the PS 19 polls.