Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Corrupt Party Boss Flexes His Muscles in Brooklyn

I recently wrote about the fierce competition between corrupt Party Boss Vito Lopez's aide, Steve Levin, and social conservative Isaac Abraham for the conservative votes in the 33rd City Council district while progressive reformers Jo Anne Simon and Ken Diamondstone fight over the majority progressive votes. Interestingly, my piece got picked up by several Hasid-targeted blogs as a way of plugging Isaac Abraham among the conservative voters. (The other part of the article covered the 39th district where a parallel fight between Dov Hikind-endorsed Brad Lander and social conservative John Heyer is taking a similar course with progressive reformers Josh Skaller and Bob Zuckerman battling over the progressive majority votes).

Here's what I wrote (in part) about the 33rd District race:

In the 33rd district, Isaac Abraham is a Satmar Hasid who is running on a combined platform of opposition to Vito Lopez (hence technically reform) and what, for the district as a whole, would be extreme conservativism. Isaac Abraham has been a supporter of Connectitcut Senator Joe Lieberman, the former Vice Presidential candidate who became a McCain supporter in 2008. Abraham, who is running in the Democratic primary, has gone on record urging Jewish Democrats to re-register Republican. Abraham supports tax-payer funded school vouchers for private schools, a tradtionally Republican stand. Abraham is also opposed to gay rights and is anti-choice. These stands put him at odds with most of the voters in the district but is in sync with the orthodox Jewish and old-school Catholic neighborhoods. I have met Isaac Abraham and he is a dynamic community activist and entertaining speaker. So he combines a certain odd charisma with activism and...extreme social conservativism.

Competing with Abraham for these conservative votes is the machine candiadte Steve Levin whose boss, Vito Lopez, has connections in the conservative neighborhoods and is pulling strings to get the conservative vote for Levin over Abraham and is exploiting personality conflicts among the Hasids to siphon away votes from Abraham. So Hasids have the choice of voting their values (and so voting for Abraham) or voting according to political alliances and exchange of political favors (and so voting for the machine's Steve Levin). It should be noted that Levin's boss has had a history of supporting Republicans over Democrats before he became Party Boss, and even after that has had a history of actively discouraging challenges to Republicans in Brooklyn, so Vito Lopez certainly has his connections to conservatives. For those who aren't familiar with the Brooklyn machine, keep in mind that the former boss, Clarence Norman, is in prison for corruption and Vito Lopez should also be in prison. Steve Levin, as Vito Lopez's right hand man, cannot have been innocent of the corruption Vito Lopez is known for (for more info, see here here, and here)...

Meanwhile the true progressive reformers, like Jo Anne Simon and Ken Diamondstone in the 33rd...compete over the majority of the district with eachother and with the machine candidates who try to downplay the scandals their respective machines are associated with.

The Villiage Voice has an article that goes into some detail about Steve Levin's candidacy and how it represents a power play by Party Boss Vito Lopez. Here's what they have to say about this race:

Power Plays by Party Boss Vito Lopez

The Lord of Brooklyn, a Democratic powerbroker who is flexing his
political muscles these days like a gym rat pumping the free weights

By Tom Robbins - September 01, 2009 - The Village Voice

Say this for Vito Lopez, the Brooklyn Democratic powerbroker who is
flexing his political muscles these days like a gym rat pumping the
free weights: He is not one to let a few silly scandals knock him off
the game plan that has served him so well for so long.

Even as the investigation of politicians alleged to have steered government money to relatives and cronies is fast becoming a cottage industry for local prosecutors, Lopez has stayed the course. This year, the veteran State Assemblyman allocated another $350,000 in state funds to the organization he helped found back in the 1970s, the sprawling Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council. This was only the latest of many millions in taxpayer monies that Lopez and his political allies have sent the group's way. Given his many and tangled ties to the group, lesser politicians might hesitate to be so openly generous. But that is why they are not Vito Lopez, and not the leader of the Kings County Democratic Party, nor the powerful chairman of the Assembly's Housing Committee.

Yes, it is true he cohabitates with Ridgewood Bushwick's $190,000-per-year housing director, Angela Battaglia, the love of his life...

Yes, he personally makes sure that the city and state spend some $170,000 on the group's massive annual picnic at Long Island's Sunken Meadow State Park...

And yes, this year, Lopez is pushing the envelope even further, promoting not one, not two, but three of Ridgewood Bushwick's allies into elective office. He is seeking nothing less than a sweep, a kind of Vito-fecta that will further extend his political influence...

Lopez protégés are running for election in two adjoining City Council districts, and the assemblyman is pulling out all stops and twisting all arms to make sure his surrogates win office.

In the 33rd District, which skirts north Brooklyn from Union Street to Williamsburg, Lopez's current chief of staff, Stephen Levin, 28, is running to fill the seat being vacated by David Yassky. Levin's complete résumé is this: Brown University, B.A., classics and comparative literature; two years, Ridgewood Bushwick; three years, Lopez legislative aide. As soon as Levin went to work at Ridgewood Bushwick, he immediately enlisted as a campaign aide on various Lopez elections, the dividing line between politics and social work being remarkably thin in these precincts.

I should note I long ago characterized Steve Levin's whole resume as basically doing the bidding of Vito Lopez. Here's what I said back in April:

Levin's only claim to fame is that he is Vito's little boy. My one observation of Mr...Does he have anything else going for him other than the support of the corrupt Party Boss?

The Villiage Voice article goes on to cover two other Vito Lopez power plays:

In the adjoining 34th District, which encompasses a swath of Williamsburg and Bushwick, Lopez is pushing the candidacy of a young woman named Maritza Davila, currently a project director at Ridgewood Bushwick. Lopez is such a Davila fan that he allocated $45,000 in funding for her job there. The money, according to Lopez's legislative initiative form, pays for Davila to take residents to museums, aquariums, and sporting events. She also does double duty: In addition to her day job, Davila serves as a Democratic district leader in Lopez's political club.

Bushwick is Lopez's home base. OK, not his actual residential home. He lives blissfully with Battaglia far from his district in a Queens condo. His political home. He has long controlled the local Council seat, but sometimes, his protégés disappoint him and he is forced to seek their removal. For instance, the incumbent Council member in the district is Diana Reyna, whose training came—where else?—from being a Lopez aide.

Reyna, however, ran afoul of her mentor when she dared to disagree about a large tract of undeveloped land known as the Broadway Triangle. Thanks to his great clout with city and state officials, Lopez arranged to have all of the housing development opportunities there routed to Ridgewood Bushwick and a kindred group, the United Jewish Organizations, which controls social service funds in the Orthodox section of Williamsburg and whose executives happily carry Lopez's election petitions. Lopez has long been a big booster of Mayor Bloomberg, and his influence is such that the city didn't even bother holding its usual competition among would-be developers. It simply
designated Lopez's chosen groups...

So, to summarize, Reyna refused to go along with the most blatant of Vito Lopez's corruption, and so Lopez is running someone against her he hopes will be more compliant.

The third candidate on Lopez's team is a bit of a sleeper. Even inside the district, few are aware that the county Democratic leader has placed an old friend named Pam Fisher on the ballot to be a civil court judge. Fisher lives in Whitestone, Queens, but her local ties are golden. Her sister is Christiana Fisher, the executive director of Ridgewood Bushwick, who pulls in $234,000 a year from the main group and an added $89,700 from its home-care division. She has her political duties as well, serving as records custodian for Lopez's campaign organization.

Pam Fisher, also a Ridgewood Bushwick alumna, has no primary opponent, so her name will automatically appear on the November ballot. This is lucky for her, since she was declared unqualified for the bench by both city and Brooklyn bar associations after she refused to submit to screening. Not that it matters. She is guaranteed to win since Republicans don't even bother running candidates for such posts.

I should note that running unqualified judges is a Vito Lopez specialty, it seems, since a couple of years ago Vito Lopez, backed by Marty Markowitz, ran the virulently homophobic Noach Dear, who was also declared unqualified and had NEVER PRACTICES LAW IN HIS LIFE, as a Civil Court judge as a political favor to others. I covered that travesty of a judicial race in some detail at the time. To me foisting unqualified judges on our community is one of the WORST things Vito Lopez, Steve Levin and the whole Brooklyn machine does since when we go up before judges, we don't want political hacks determining our fate. But that's often what we have thanks to Vito Lopez and Steve Levin. Two other candidates running in the 33rd district have been among the leaders in trying to stop Vito Lopez from foisting these unqualified judges on us: Jo Anne Simon and Ken Diamondstone.

Jo Anne Simon is a local district leader, has the backing of Joan Millman, probably the most popular Assembly member in the state, and is the only woman in the race. She has reasonable reform credentials which play well in the district. And she has a long history of advocacy for the disabled, which also plays well in the district. She has been endorsed by all three of the local reform clubs (IND, CBID and LID) and few candidates that have the backing of all three lose. She also has the backing of other very popular local politicians, including Councilwoman Tish James (one of the main opponents of Bruce Ratner's Atlantic Yards scheme) and Congresswoman Nydia Velasquez.

Ken Diamondstone has made a name for himself as being the guy who almost deposed Senator Marty Connor before Dan Squadron successfully finished off Connor. In fact, Diamondstone did very well against Connor in the Brooklyn end of that district. Diamondstone has fewer endorsements than Jo Anne Simon, but has gotten endorsements from Stonewall Democrats and Americans for Democratic Action.

I happen to be backing Jo Anne Simon, but my main goal is to keep the corrupt machine candidate, Steve Levin, and the social conservative, Isaac Abraham, from taking the seat.

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