1:00 pm Oct. 27, 20112
On Tuesday afternoon, Assemblyman Vito Lopez rallied about 100 supporters and sympathetic union members to the windy steps of Brooklyn's Borough Hall, in support of the Occupy Wall Street protests. Beneath a massive banner bearing his name, Lopez, Brooklyn's Democratic Party chairman, was proudly acting as emcee.
By his standards, Lopez has in recent days launched what amounts to an all-out publicity tour. He has granted a handful of interviews, mostly about Occupy Wall Street, and earlier this week, he joined Twitter. (Using the handle @Vito_J_Lopez, Lopez' account was initially protected but has since, like its owner, been opened up to the public.) And he organized Tuesday's march over the Brooklyn Bridge, for which his office even sent out a press release.
Not that he was entirely happy when the press duly accepted his invitation and showed up.
"I've been slapped around and the press likes to do that and that's fine," Lopez said at the rally. "This morning I was slapped around: 'These people that are over there are revolutionaries, anarchists,' and things like that. Well, we're having a peaceful march in solidarity with their cause, alright? The same press and the same media outlets saluted the Tea Party and what they were doing and so it's a little bit of a contradiction, but let the media do what they have to do. And they will continue to do that."
He was referring to an interview earlier that morning, when he made a rare television appearance on Good Day New York to talk about his support for the protesters.
Lopez was one of the first elected officials to visit Occupy Wall Street—their anti-corporate message is more or less in line with the working-class Assembly district he has represented for nearly three decades—and the intense interest in the protests has given him a chance to promote himself as a liberal champion at the front of the fight for progressive causes.
Good Day's host Greg Kelly, after being mostly dismissive of the Occupy demonstration (and invoking Doug Schoen's polling), pivoted to a question about a federal investigation into the Bushwick nonprofit Lopez founded.
Lopez said the question was "totally out of context for why I'm here," given that he was there to talk about his march, and that he had never been contacted about an investigation and was no longer involved with the nonprofit.
Kelly pressed on, asking if Lopez's girlfriend still works there.
"I'm not going to get in to who my girlfriend is, or not," Lopez said. (The answer to Kelly's question is yes.)
Lopez was first elected to the Assembly in 1984 and, over the course of 14 terms, has made himself into one of the more powerful champions of affordable housing and senior-citizen issues in Albany. He was elected Brooklyn's Democratic county chairman in 2005, after the resignation of Clarence Norman. He has not been immune to the controversies that seem to attend everyone who holds that position.
His (former) nonprofit, which still contributes greatly to his political power, is reportedly still under investigation, and there has been an unending stream of questions about other matters, from whether Lopez actually lives in his legislative district, to the placement of polling sites, to his judicial nominees.
Lopez is well aware he has been cast as the villain in the drama of Brooklyn politics, the party boss who presides over a political and social-service empire, with a crowd of New Kings Democratic reformers trying to topple him, as the New York Times editorial board cheers his opponents on.
This bothers him.
"I love the characterization," he said sarcastically in a phone interview earlier this month, when asked about his support for a candidate who's also backed by the reformers who oppose him.
Lopez said he was a "reformer" too when he first ran for office, and that some of his supposedly reformist opponents had recently backed one of his entrenched rivals, longtime congressman Ed Towns, in a race for district leader.
"Towns as a reformer?" he guffawed. "So this idea about labels and where they're at, I wouldn't give a lot of credence to that."
Lopez touted his own support for same-sex marriage—"I was the first county leader in the country to come out for a marriage equality"—and said if you don't believe him, just ask the loft tenants for whom he recently helped secure legal protections.
"If you've ever met loft tenants they're an interesting group of people," he said. "One side of their head is red. One side is yellow. They think I'm a pretty good guy."
He also mentioned a few recent losses other county leaders suffered in district-leader races, and suggested that the press would have made a much bigger deal of it if he had incurred such losses in Brooklyn.
"You think you're going to write that?" he said dismissively.
At his rally at Brooklyn Borough Hall, Lopez worked a complaint about the press into his introduction of nearly every politician and union leader.
"I want to thank this particular politician," he said of his first speaker. "I was walking by and someone said, 'Hey you know, Channel 5 really socked you a little bit.' And I said, 'What are you doing to do?' And they said, 'Not as bad as they did in the New York Times with Marty Markowitz.' And I said, 'I don't read the Times and I didn't know that.' I'm starting to think you wear these articles as badge of honors."
He was in the process of introducing Markowitz, who was standing nearby, looking decidedly less amused than Lopez.
"I like him better because he's getting beaten up," Lopez said.
"Sure you do," laughed Markowitz.
"No, no, no, not because he gets beat up," Lopez said. "But now we have something in common. When we go out to eat, we can talk about, 'Yeah, I got beaten up seven times.' You can say, 'Well, I got beaten up eight times.' They said, 'I'm too short.' I'll say, 'They tell me I'm too tall.' So we can go on and on.
"And this is to take over the world, this rally. This is the beginning of my attempt to take over the world."