Assemblyman Joe Lentol publicly broke from Brooklyn Democratic boss Vito Lopez today, when he announced he will endorse one of Lopez’s most vociferous antagonizers, Lincoln Restler, for district leader.
Lentol had remained neutral in the race in deference to Lopez, who has served as the county’s Democratic Party leader until he announced a week ago he will step down from the post after claims that he allegedly verbally and physically abused four former staff members became public.
But Lentol is now supporting Restler against Lopez’s wishes.
“Now that that obstacle is gone, because there is no longer a county leader named Vito Lopez, my decision is clear,” said Lentol, in an interview on Wednesday.
“I knew Lincoln was a better candidate but I knew what a thorn in the side to the county leader he’s been. But this is the time now to move forward. We’ve been living in a district where there’s always political strife. We should be moving forward to get more parks, housing, in the district. I’d like to try to unify the district and work together in peace and harmony.”
Lopez sought out Community Board 1 Chairman Chris Olechowski to run against Restler, and promptly endorsed him. Olechowski is expected to draw support from the Polish community in Greenpoint and the largest sect of Hasidic Jews in South Williamsburg, who remain loyal to Lopez.
Lentol called Olechowski “an excellent community board chairman” but said Restler has been a “good district leader for two years and he’ll continue to do that.”
“I’m not trying to do anything to anybody by this endorsement, I’m just doing what I think is the right thing. I feel bad for Chris, he’s been a political victim in all of this, and it’s not right that that happened.”
Restler said he was proud to have Lentol’s support.
“Joe is a widely beloved figure in Williamsburg and Greenpoint,” he said.
“Nobody cares more about our community and no one has done more for our community than Joe Lentol over the course of his 40 years of distinguished service in the Assembly.”
Lentol had not spoken to Lopez, who was booted off the Assembly housing committee last Friday and has heard calls across the state to resign from office. But he spoke to Councilman Steve Levin, Lopez’s protégé, about his decision.
“He’s upset about it, but he really shouldn’t be upset,” Lentol said.
“It’s an opportunity for all of us to move out from under the yoke of the county leader. I include myself for that. Like it or not, this county leader wields a lot of power because of his sheer personality and his position. It’s good for Steve Levin and it’s good for Joe Lentol too,” he said.
“He’s practically lost everything,” said Lentol.
“It’s not an easy situation. But he’s still fighting, and he’s still a fighter. Vito would never give up because somebody would beat him up.”
Levin declined to comment about the sexual harassment claims against Lopez but said he agreed to endorse Olechowski months ago. “[Chris Olechowski] has impressed me consistently with his composure his command of the issues and his work ethic, and I am proud to be endorsing him and supporting him actively,” said Levin. “He’s a good guy and he’s a good candidate, and I think he’ll be victorious on election.”
After Levin’s office initially declined to comment about Lopez and after this story was posted, a spokeswoman for Levin called back to dispute that the councilman had said that Lopez felt “beaten down.”
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