Vito Lopez’s Complex Legacy

Brooklyn -

On a once-neglected plot in Bushwick, Brooklyn, there’s a quiet neighborhood of homes. The decayed former brownfield site of the Rheingold brewery now boasts 58 affordable duplexes, four three-family homes and 30 condominiums that are also 100 percent affordable, along with 88 co-op units and 272 subsidized apartments. A spot that embodied the neighborhood’s plagued landscape now has a tidy neighborhood of houses built in a Dutch style and a brick senior center on the ground floor of apartments with solar panels on the roof.

The neighborhood turned around through the political muscle of Vito Lopez, a fallen Brooklyn giant. He resigned as chairman of the Brooklyn Democrats in August of 2012 and gave up his long-held State Assembly seat in May after sexual harassment allegations—like the night he grabbed a female staffer’s hand in a bar and counted to 60 while looking the stricken young woman in the eye, according to a state ethics committee report.

Lopez lost a City Council race this fall after a career in which he had turned a remote and notorious area of Brooklyn into the home base of a political empire by helping the needy and mobilizing his beneficiaries. The ethnic politics of Williamsburg and the harassment allegations took down the leader of the Kings County Democrats. Yet Lopez also cemented a lasting legacy through the brick and mortar housing now present in the former vacant lots of Bushwick.