Vito Lopez, the former state assemblyman and powerful chairman of the Brooklyn Democratic Party, has died.
Lopez, 74, had been battling cancer for years and was taken to Memorial Sloan Kettering Medical Center where he died Monday night, according to a Brooklyn Democratic official, Frank Carone. A spokesman for the party, Bob Liff, confirmed Lopez’s death.
Lopez dominated Brooklyn politics for decades until he was forced to resign from his state and party posts following allegations that he sexually harrassed staffers. Though he denied the charges, he became a pariah in the same circles where he was once venerated. In 2013, in his final act on the political stage, he ran for a City Council seat and lost.
First elected to the Assembly in 1985, Lopez, a social worker by training, rose to become chairman of the housing committee, where he was able to dole out millions of dollars in funding for his then-impoverished Williamsburg and Bushwick district. Lopez founded the Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council, a nonprofit that provides services to senior citizens in the Bushwick area. To his supporters, RBSCC was vital community resource; to detractors, it was little more than a patronage mill and a source of his political power.
Lopez was respected and feared in Brooklyn, where his savvy, organizational accumen and ability to hold a grudge were legendary. Few elected officials delivered the resources Lopez could for his slice of northern Brooklyn, where senior centers, healthcare facilities and housing sprouted up thanks to Lopez’s largesse. When Mayor Bill de Blasio, then a city councilman, was vying with Christine Quinn to become the speaker of the City Council in 2005, he and Ms. Quinn aggressively courted the hulking Democrat.
Lopez was also known for feuding endlessly with anyone who he believed had wronged him. Enemies included Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez and reformers in northern Brooklyn who hoped to make the Democratic machine less opaque.
Even after he left office and his illness worsened, Lopez could never withdraw from the political scene completely. He remained a Democratic district leader up until he died and appeared at local functions, including this year’s dinner for the Brooklyn Democrats.