By Raanan Geberer
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Vito Lopez, the Brooklyn assemblyman accused of asking young female staffers to massage him, touch his cancerous tumors and join him in hotel rooms, resigned on Monday from the Legislature amid sexual harassment allegations.
Lopez said many times that he was resigning not because of the charges, but to run for the City Council in the 34th District in Williamsburg and Bushwick, his historic power base. But a cursory glance at the race shows that Lopez has an uphill battle, to put it mildly.
Lopez’ main opponent is Antonio Reynoso, chief of staff for Councilwoman Diana Reyna (currently on leave). He has a professional-looking website featuring a high-powered list of endorsements, some of which include the United Federation of Teachers, Local 1199 SEIU, the Working Families Party, and three Democratic mayoral hopefuls – Christine Quinn, Bill de Blasio and John Liu.
Campaign Finance Board records reveal that he had raised, as of Monday, $86,764. Contributors ranged from retirees and postal and cafeteria workers to attorneys and executives of such powerful local organizations as El Puente, HeartShare Human Services and St. Nicholas Alliance. One noticed contributions from several current City Council members, such as Daniel Garodnick. Steve Hindy, head of the Brooklyn Brewery, is also listed as a contributor.
On the other hand, a “Lopez for City Council” site was not visible on the internet yesterday. Lopez had raised $38,393 as of Monday. Among his supporters were retirees, several attorneys, a manager at Giando’s in Williamsburg, an official at Bushwick United Head Start and his longtime girlfriend, Angela Battaglia. The biggest contribution, $2,500, was from Lopez himself.
In a single, terse sentence, Lopez on Monday announced the resignation from the seat he's held since 1984: "I hereby resign the public office of Member of the Assembly from the 53rd Assembly District, Kings County, effective 9 a.m. Monday, May 20, 2013."
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver announced Lopez's reversal. The powerful speaker had planned Monday to begin a rare and uncertain effort to expel a sitting lawmaker. Expelling Lopez could have proved difficult — he's not charged with any crime and was overwhelmingly re-elected in November, when the scandal was already widely known.
But Lopez and Silver have been under increased pressure since last week, when reports from Special Prosecutor Daniel Donovan and the state Joint Commission on Public Ethics detailed allegations involving four female staffers. The allegations including Lopez forcing his hand up a woman's leg, trying to coerce them to share hotel rooms with him, touching the tumors on his neck and requiring them to write flattering and flirtatious memos to him that he later tried to use to discredit their accusations.
The allegations involving two women came last summer, when the scandal first became public. That's when Silver and top Assembly staffers, along with reviews by top staffers for Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, authorized a secret $103,000 settlement for Lopez's first accusers.
Political science Professor Doug Muzzio of Baruch College called the resignation "partial deodorizing" of scandal-plagued Albany.
"Albany needs more extensive and permanent disinfectant," he said Saturday.
"It's a good thing for the state, the Assembly and the people of Brooklyn that he resigned," said Richard Brodsky of the Wagner School of New York University, who also served with Lopez and Silver in the Assembly.
"In the heat of the moment, it is also important to recognize that there ought to be limitations on a legislative body removing merely the unpleasant or the disgusting from membership," Brodsky said, noting the expulsion effort wasn't a sure thing. "The law at stake here is the right of the people to be represented. On balance, in this case, this resignation is important and necessary."
He noted the case after World War I when the Assembly refused to seat three socialists elected to office.
"Today we look at that as it was, the Red Scare," said Jack McEneny, a former Democratic assemblyman who acted as a historian for the chamber who agrees there was a legal question to expelling Lopez. "Today, in our minds, that's not appropriate for a democracy."
Lopez has denied sexually harassing anyone. He noted the two investigations found he committed no crime and that only the voters should decide if he leaves office. His attorney didn't respond to a request for comment Saturday.