Brooklyn Assemblyman Vito Lopez will run for City Council amid ongoing health problems and sexual harassment allegations that cost him his seniority in the Legislature, where he has served for three decades, according to a source close to Lopez.
Lopez met with a group of advisers earlier this week to plan out a run for Council, according to source who attended the meeting. He opened a campaign committee to raise money for the race, according to a Crain’s New York report, the first step in launching a full-fledged campaign.
“We take races seriously – we don’t form committees just to play around,” the source said. “My expectation is he’s going to run. To those who don’t like him, who don’t want him around, they should try to beat him and not wish him ill.”
The longtime lawmaker has been receiving treatment for thyroid cancer since 2010 and had already taken six weeks off from the legislative session to recover from pneumonia. Lopez returned to Albany last week to vote for the budget and told reporters he has been unable to shake the pneumonia and that his doctors found two new growths on his brain, which they believe may be cancerous.
But while Lopez has said that he wasn’t sure his body could withstand the commute to Albany for another year, he reportedly told his advisers that he felt healthy enough to campaign in Brooklyn for a City Council seat.
Lopez’s departure from the Assembly won’t necessarily end several inquiries into his behavior, which has already cost him his Housing Committee and Kings County Democratic Party chairmanships.
The Legislative Ethics Commission is currently reviewing the Joint Commission of Public Ethic’s confidential findings regarding his alleged verbal and physical harassment toward his former office staff and interns last year. And the Staten Island District Attorney is investigating Lopez’s conduct for potential criminality.
Lopez has maintained his innocence and has vowed to fight the charges.
But women’s rights groups and others have called on him to resign and abandon his interest in public office at any level.
“The continued reports of Vito Lopez’s egregious misconduct make clear that he is unsuitable for public office,” Sonia Ossorio, president of NOW NYC, said during a press conference on Thursday. “It is insulting and obscene that he would even consider running for City Council. We need to send a strong message to New York women that sexual harassment in the workplace is unacceptable.”
These organizations along with the Working Families Party and a handful of labor and good government groups have endorsed Antonio Reynoso, an aide to Councilwoman Diana Reyna, for the 34th Council District that Lopez is eyeing. High school teacher Tommy Torres, a former boyfriend of disgraced Assemblywoman Naomi Rivera, is also in the race.
Reynoso said he was “honored” to have the support of National Organization for Women at a press conference in Brooklyn on Thursday.
“From preventing sexual harassment and violence against women to promoting reproductive rights and economic justice, I look forward to working with NOW as a strong advocate for women’s rights in the City Council,” he said in a statement. “The choice for voters is clear — no one will work harder than I will to build a better and brighter future for everyone in North Brooklyn.”
Lopez may struggle to get financial and political support for the race. Scores of public officials called on Lopez to resign from the Assembly last year when the story about his alleged sexual harassment charges broke. And a Democratic Party source said there was “no way” the county would ever support Vito for Council.
Still, Lopez remains beloved by many in Williamsburg and Bushwick. He won re-election last fall with nearly 90 percent of the vote, and he controls one of the strongest get-out-the-vote operations in New York City.
His opponents are gearing up for a nasty battle this fall.
“Who will give money to a known sexual predator and a disgraced corrupt politician?” asked former Democratic district leader Lincoln Restler. “We’ll certainly be watching. Antonio has been able to assemble a remarkably broad coalition of political, labor and community support. He is a formidable and experienced candidate to represent his district.”
Reynoso sent out a fund-raising appeal to his supporters announcing that Lopez is entering the race this afternoon and his campaign spokesman sent out the following statement on his behalf:
“Over a period of many years in Albany, Vito Lopez helped institutionalize and perpetuate the culture of corruption that is again dominating the news this week. It’s both fitting and unsettling that he picked this particular moment to register a campaign committee for City Council.
He has shamed himself and the Assembly, and he would do the same in the City Council. No one wants him to run. After being stripped of all his power in Albany, Lopez has now decided to run only as a last-ditch escape from problems and scandals of his own making. My community deserves better than a corrupt sexual predator who helped turn Albany into a national disgrace and cringe-inducing cesspool.
If Lopez does move forward with a City Council campaign, he needs to know that his career will end in defeat and embarrassment. Organizations and leaders around the city are rallying around my candidacy, because they know I will deliver honest and ethical leadership. Regardless of what Lopez chooses to do, I will continue to build my grassroots campaign block by block, and give voters a clear progressive vision for how I would advance policies and legislation to strengthen low-income families and expand the middle class,”