Last Friday, the New York State Assembly dropped a bombshell on the Brooklyn political world by announcing the conclusion of an investigation into Assemblyman Vito Lopez, who doubles as the chair of the Kings County Democratic Party. By a unanimous vote, the investigation found Mr. Lopez had sexually harassed and groped at least two of his female staffers. While Mr. Lopez has vowed to remain in control, most Brooklyn politicos have at least privately scoffed at the idea. Regardless of Mr. Lopez’s situation, his brand is certainly damaged as the September 13th primary Election Day quickly approaches. And since there are a couple races that might be affected by that more than others, here’s a brief look at whose fortunes might be at stake:
District Leader Lincoln Restler‘s high-profile reelection campaign stands out as one of those with the most to gain. Mr. Restler’s political brand is very much tied with being a chief antagonist of Mr. Lopez, and his arguments about the problems within the county organization are sure to ring louder after Friday’s developments.
Mr. Lopez may still control a large portion of the vote in the district, however, as the larger Hasidic faction in Williamsburg is allied with him and can deliver a huge percentage of the Democratic vote in the area. To what extent this faction remains loyal to Mr. Lopez is hard to ascertain, but a lot of what Mr. Lopez had to offer the community was his powerful perch atop the Assembly’s Housing Committee. Mr. Lopez was stripped of that position, which also helped him raise money from realtors for his preferred candidates, last Friday.
Mr. Restler faces off against community board chairman Chris Olechowski.
Another candidate who may feel a boost is attorney Jason Otaño, who’s running against State Senator Martin Dilan. Mr. Dilan was one of Mr. Lopez’s closest allies, which could give Mr. Otaño a new argument to use in the race. Also, Mr. Lopez’s politically influential non-profit, the Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council, is based in Mr. Dilan’s district and may not be running at full electoral capacity with Mr. Lopez on the ropes.
However, it’s not clear if this race was ever close enough that Mr. Lopez’s downfall would be determinative in the final outcome.
Other races which feature candidates supported and opposed by the county’s Democratic Party include Walter Mosley and Ola Alabi running for the State Assembly, Assemblyman Rafael Espinal and his challenger Juan Rodriguez, and Lara Genovesi and Richard Montelione campaigning for a Civil Court judgeship. However, Mr. Rodriguez’s campaign has been relatively quiet and Mr. Mosley and Ms. Genovesi, while supported by Mr. Lopez, have political identities that seem distinct from him. The New York Times endorsed Ms. Genovesi over the weekend, for example.
Looking forward to 2013, one race that could be truly shook up by Mr. Lopez’s decline is the race to replace term-limited Councilman Lew Fidler in southeastern Brooklyn. This is because the leading candidate in that race, District Leader Frank Seddio, is also a top candidate to replace Mr. Lopez as head of the county organization. The City Charter, however, would prohibit Mr. Seddio from holding both positions and he would have to withdraw from his councilmanic campaign if he wanted to be the county’s Democratic chairman in 2014 and beyond.
Other 2013 races that could be affected by Friday’s news include those to replace term-limited Council Members Diana Reyna and Erik Dilan, as well as a possible challenge to Councilman Steve Levin, whose districts all lie squarely on Mr. Lopez’s political turf in northern Brooklyn. The field for each of these races will likely include at least one candidate who used to be decisively allied with Mr. Lopez’s leadership and one who vocally opposed it.