• No Sweat
  • Tuesday, August 21, 2007

    BROOKLYN CORRUPTION: A Sad Case of Democratic Corruption

    Even though it is clear that on a naitonal level Republican corruption FAR outweighs Democratic corruption, in my own neighborhood it is often the Democrats who are corrupt. The focus of that corruption once was a man named Clarence Norman. Well, I use Clarence to highlight one difference between Democratic corruption and Republican corruption: Clarence Norman was put in jail by a DEMOCRATIC District Attorney. Usually Republicans circle the wagons around even their most corrupt members and go so far as defending sex offenders and rapists if it gets them what they want. So at least Democrats are capable of recogizing corruption in their midst and fight it.

    And fight Democratic corruption is what I do in Brooklyn, NY.

    Once Clarence Norman was in jail, his job of head of the Brooklyn Dem party was taken over by someone named Vito Lopez. Sadly, Vito Lopez is just as corrupt as Clarence Norman.

    Seems Vito Lopez may be doing exactly what put Clarence Norman in jail:

    Brooklyn assemblyman Vito Lopez, who is pushing hard to win the county's Democratic Party leadership post made vacant by the conviction of his former assembly colleague, Clarence Norman, Jr., has something else in common with Norman: Both men used political campaign committees to pay for their personal cars, and then accepted mileage reimbursement from the legislature - a legal no-no according to Brooklyn District Attorney Charles "Joe" Hynes who won indictments against Norman for that very offense.

    State election board filings show that since 1999 the Bushwick pol's campaign committee, "Friends of Vito Lopez," has routinely shelled out $500 a month in leasing costs for his Acura sports car, and another $2800 a year for his auto insurance costs. It also pays more than $200 a month for a luxury dashboard computer service. In addition, the committee picks up a monthly American Express bill for the assemblyman, a tab that runs from $400 to $8,000 a month.

    Village Voice

    Vito Lopez takes crony capitalism to a level that even Republicans might envy:

    The lengthy lead story in the Real Estate section [of the NY Times] credited Lopez with sparking a massive rebuilding effort in Bushwick, way back when he was a graduate student in 1971, and then carrying it through. The story also mentioned that Angela Battaglia's agency is the developer for a $20 million component of the rebuilding effort. It even pictured [Vito] Lopez and Battaglia standing together in front of new housing construction. But the story omitted that Battaglia is Lopez's girlfriend. Does that connection at least deserve mention? Might the article have explained why there was or wasn't a conflict of interest present? Was it a coincidence that Lopez's girlfriend's outfit was put in charge of the $20 million deal? Inquiring minds would like to know. It may well be that everything was done on the up-and-up. But given Lopez's tendency to do favors for his friends-for example, he helped make his girlfriend's brother Jack Battaglia a Civil Court judge-the Times should have explored the question.

    --Lambda Independent Democrats

    And Vito Lopez puts cronyism ahead of qualifications when choosing judges:

    Just as dispiriting, party regulars chose as the convicted Norman's successor Assemblyman Vito Lopez, an old-time ward heeler from Bushwick who has never shown a zeal for reform until, gee whiz, now. He vows the party will consult a panel of learned men and women, such as Brooklyn Law School's dean, about picking quality judges.

    We've seen this movie before, and the ending stinks. Two years ago, Norman and party district leaders, Lopez included, pledged they would never support a candidate for a judgeship who had not been approved by an independent screening commission. This year, for the first time, the panel reviewed Civil Court candidates.

    And guess what? The party shoehorned two lawyers onto the bench without any screening. Kenny Sherman, son of district leader Roberta Sherman, will get a 10-year Civil Court term without so much as a primary. And Canarsie Assemblyman Frank Seddio was awarded an uncontested ballot line for Surrogate's Court. So much for quality control. So much for keeping your word.

    Daily News (quoted from "It Takes a Blogger")

    So, given Vito's record of supporting sleazy and often unqualified judges, this year in Brooklyn many are suspicious of his hand picked candidate for Surrogate Judge, one of the more powerful and coveted judicial positions in Brooklyn. Shawndya Simpson is Vito Lopez's picked candidate for this race, running against Judge Diana Simpson, who already has 16 years judicial experience. Sadly neither Johnson nor Simpson are completely free of connections to the local corrupt machine, but Johnson has been endorsed by Brooklyn's reform clubs, Independent Neighborhood Democrats and Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats, and is opposed by Brooklyn Crook Vito Lopez. By contrasy, Shawndya Simpson was hand picked by Vito Lopez at practically the last minute, circumventing much of the normal procedures for endorsements.

    Diana Johnson seems more qualified because she already has 16 years of judicial experience. But what really turned me off to Shawdya Simpson is some recent statements in court while trying to prove that she really lived in Brooklyn, rather than in New Jersey where some records indicate she really lives. Under oath, Shawndya Simpson swears she doesn't know what address her 10-month old child lives and sears she does not know contact info for any of her children's schools or care providers. I kid you not:

    To the amazement of many in court, Ms. Simpson testified under oath that she didn't know the contact information for her kids at their various schools in New Jersey. In a post 9-11 world, a judge makes this incredible statement. Plus, her own obstetrician is in NJ; her kid's doctors, dentists, and such, are all in NJ.

    Even more amazing (as reported by a Johnson supporter) was that both Ms. Simpson and her husband (Jacob Walthour), could not even agree as to where their 10 month-old infant lives. Shawndya Simpson testified that her infant lives in Brooklyn with her, and that her mother-in-law takes care of the kid during the day. Simpson's husband Jacob testified that all the children- including the infant- live with him and his mother in New Jersey.
    There is even more strange testimony. At another point on the witness stand Ms. Simpson said that all the children live in New Jersey. Can anyone really believe that a mother does not live with her 10 mother old infant?

    So I wonder is Shawndya lying under oath (not a good thing for a judge) or is she just one of the most negligent parents I have heard of (not a good thing for ANYONE)?

    But there is even more about Vito Lopez that makes him one of the worst Democrats around and a prime target for anyone who opposes corruption.

    Vito Lopez gets most of his campaign contributions from developers and, interestingly enough, chiropractors. Not sure why he's so popular among chiropractors, but it is easy to see why he is so beloved by developers. Now it becomes clear that Lopez has been bought by the family of one of Brooklyn's most corrupt developers: Bruce Ratner.

    Bruce Ratner himself doesn't funnel money to candidates so much. Usually it is other family members who buy the politicians and Bruce who reaps he benefits. This is the case with Vito Lopez. In September 2006, the Ratner family maxed out donations to Vito Lopez, someone who had been largely quiet on Ratner's Atlantic Yards project before that.

    From Atlantic Yards Report:

    Greenwich Village resident Michael of Forest City Ratner (FCR) CEO Bruce Ratner, has given campaign contributions to several candidates from Brooklyn and beyond apparently favored by the developer. So has his wife, Karen Ranucci...

    On 9/8/06, Ratner and Ranucci each gave $3100 (the contribution limit) to the campaign of Brooklyn Democratic Chair Vito Lopez, who has a lock on his Assembly seat. Lopez had no primary and token opposition in the general election.

    But Lopez can have influence with Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, and Forest City Ratner certainly wants Silver to greenlight Atlantic Yards when it reaches the Public Authorities Control Board (PACB), where Silver has one of three votes. (Ratner and Ranucci had previously contributed the maximum to Silver, as well.)

    Lopez, interestingly, was not on the list of public officials supporting AY announced at the 8/23/06 press event. Still, he has ties to several project supporters.

    That was around the time of election 2006. Before that, Silver had already been a major crony of the Ratner clan. But Vito had been strangely silent given his close ties to developers. Of course, soon AFTER the Ratners paid for their Lopez, Lopez suddenly offered Bruce Ratner a deal so sweet even Michael Bloomberg balked. From Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn: (quoting the Post)

    The provision, quietly inserted by Assemblyman Vito Lopez (D-Brooklyn), would provide Ratner with an extra $300 million in property-tax benefits.

    Another provision eliminates - for Ratner only - the requirement that at least 20 percent of the housing units in each building in a complex be affordable.

    Critics say it opens the door to Ratner "segregating" all of the project's 2,500 affordable-housing units into several buildings.

    "More sinister, [Ratner] can build the market-rate housing first and wait a decade to do the affordable housing or, even worse, come back after the market-rate housing is done and then say, 'We can't afford to do the affordable housing,' " an official said...

    So...let's review. Vito Lopez is largely silent on Atlantic Yards. Then Ratner's family max out their donations to Lopez. Then Lopez steamrolls the Assembly to offer Bruce Ratner a deal worth $300 million.

    Gee...Vito Lopez sounds more and more like a Republican every day. Or, at least, part of the Shelly Silver/Joe Bruno vortex of corruption.


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