Among the many guests at Rep. Hakeem Jeffries' localized inauguration last night was Assemblyman Vito Lopez, who disregarded the assigned seating arrangement and assumed a spot in the second row with his girlfriend, Angela Battaglia.
Lopez, until recently the Brooklyn Democratic boss, is a naturally conspicuous man, with a hulking frame and a dour mien, and was made more so by a bright red sweater underneath his blazer, and the fact that he is currently facing a slew of sexual harassment charges that led a number of his erstwhile allies—including Jeffries, more or less—to call for his resignation.
But that didn't stop Lopez from attending last night, and, in typical Lopez fashion, from claiming his share of the credit for Jeffries' success, while aggressively pushing back on the idea that he's been wounded.
"There's very little written about anything positive, but Hakeem and I have been friends, we've done a number of things on affordable housing," he said after the event, as Notorious B.I.G. blasted from the stereo. During the roll call of elected officials, his name had engendered a brief pause in the applause, but after the event, a number of supporters came by to wish him well, and he bid his hellos in between telling me how much sway he still has.
"How you doing?"—he asked one well-wisher—"And I'm very proud to see a person that I supported from the beginning, and worked towards electing to Congress, get elected. And he will do an outstanding job, as was represented here today."
He said it was "factually true" that he had helped get Jeffries elected, after unifying some disparate factions in Brooklyn. "By me, bringing North Brooklyn and South Brooklyn together, everyone wants to say the new county leader, with due respect, that didn't happen til after the election."
(The new county leader, Frank Seddio, a longtime friend of Lopez's who eventually called for his resignation too, was awkwardly seated in front of Lopez.)
Ostensibly, Lopez doesn't like talking to the press, but he kept tapping my shoulder after I had turned around to try to catch the late arrival of the Rev. Al Sharpton.
"You see that?" he asked me after someone else shook his hand. "The fact that we won the Senate seat that was Marty Dilan, we won with two district leaders, my Assembly race, and Lincoln Restler spent $280,000 and lost by 19 votes to a nobody. I mean, we swept North Brooklyn."
I asked if he felt vindicated by those results.
"Yes, yes, I do—good to see you, thank you, it's good to see you—there are people who want to undercut me...but I'm proud of the reception that I got and that I'm getting.
"You see that? And there's something about that. Ninety-one percent of people voted, huge turnout for me. My Christmas party that I had, usually 200 people came, and over 500 came. And, there's something about, you know, there's a rallying cry going on in Bushwick and Williamsburg as if I'm being, you know, you know—it's backfiring, and eliciting more and more support for me, something I didn't anticipate or expect."
I tried to get in a question. "Does that make you—"
"Feel good," he said flatly.
"Want to continue your political career?" I asked.
"The biggest problem I have, the biggest problem I have, is my health issue," he said. "And Albany is a long trip. I will make a decision in about three weeks, because I'm running out of time, if I'm going to run—hey, good to see you, we gotta sti down, me and you—run for a City Council seat."
At one point, Councilwoman Tish James came over to say hello.
"We gotta get coffee," he said.
"I'll call you," she said.
As he made his way up the aisle, someone stopped and asked for a picture with him, and he made sure I was aware.
"You see that?" he said. "Somebody wants a picture with me. I didn't even tell him to do that. Did I tell you to do that?"