Supporters say Vito Joseph Lopez did plenty of good for his Brooklyn community as a member of the New York State Assembly and chairman of the powerful Democratic Party of Kings County.
They will remind you that Lopez pushed through affordable housing and helped expand community services that made a dramatic impact on the people of Bushwick, a long underserved section of Brooklyn.
Yet the legacy of Vito Lopez is marred by a series of high-profile scandals that toppled the powerful Brooklyn politico, rocked by charges of sexual harassment and corruption.
From the streets of Bushwick to the halls of New York State’s capital in Albany, Lopez ruled with a firm hand. It is true he created hundreds of units of affordable housing and pushed back some of the urban blight plaguing Bushwick.
First elected in 1985, Lopez rose to a number of senior posts, including the powerful chairmanship of the New York State Assembly Housing Committee.
Lopez, though, was not toppled by a single indiscretion, but charges of a pattern of sexual harassment. The lawmaker from Brooklyn saw the writing on the legislative wall, resigning in the wake of a New York State ethics investigation that identified no less than eight victims – mostly young staffers he preyed upon.
During the investigation a backroom deal came to light, where the New York State Assembly paid hundreds of thousands in hush money to quiet Lopez’ accusers. These were tax-payer dollars privately funneled to cover-up Lopez’ crimes, indiscretions he publicly denied. The payoffs were approved by none other than Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, another corrupt Albany politician sentenced to more than a decade in 2016 on unrelated charges.
By 2012, Lopez, the longtime Brooklyn Democratic leader since 2006, opted to not seek another run for the post.
The following year, a New York state ethics commission published a report itemizing his actions sexually harassing the young women. In one disgusting passage, Lopez instructed one staffer to feel the tumors on his neck. Following months of withering media coverage, fined $330,000 and facing expulsion from the New York State Assembly, Lopez resigned in disgrace.
His reputation shredded, Lopez attempted a political comeback, but could not even muster enough support to swing a New York City Council seat.
Within two years he was dead.
On November 9, 2015, broken, disgraced and succumbing to leukemia, Lopez slipped away into the night at approximately 10 p.m. at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Hospital in Manhattan.