So much of what happens at the City Council occurs under the radar that few noticed when Speaker Christine Quinn started her second term in January 2010 with appointments that boosted the power of Vito Lopez, a synonym for scandal. Lopez ruled Brooklyn politics as its Democratic Party boss, chaired the state Assembly’s influential Housing Committee for years, and had long been collecting city and state funding for Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council, a huge social service empire that doubled as his very potent political base.
While Lopez had long been a Quinn ally, the speaker was taking the relationship to a new level. Having passed on a planned mayoral candidacy after backing the term limits extension that allowed Michael Bloomberg to run again, Quinn was already laser-focused on her next mayoral opportunity in 2013. As several Council members told WNYC, she was also quite willing to use the array of powers available to a speaker to solidify a Lopez alliance. Lopez not only could be expected to decide what candidate got the Brooklyn Democratic endorsement in 2013, he had the power to deliver blocs of actual votes, unlike county leaders elsewhere in the city.
The powers Quinn would exploit on Lopez’s behalf are little appreciated by the mayor-obsessed media and public. The speaker is the second most powerful official in city government, the only formidable check and balance in the charter. The $70 billion budget must be approved by the Council, allowing it alone to alter the fiscal priorities of the mayor’s side of City Hall. In a city where lucrative real estate projects are a political lifeline, the Council has final say on the development deals the mayor proposes, a power that Quinn has used as speaker to win friends and influence donations.
Quinn told WNYC that while she would have liked to get the support of the Democratic Party organizations in Brooklyn and other boroughs, she never cut deals with Lopez or other county leaders in exchange for their support of her mayoral candidacy. "Look, obviously in politics people want things, and sometimes they happen and sometimes they don’t," she said. "But this kind of belief that there were all of these commitments made, all these promises made, before I got the support of county organizations or individual members is just not accurate."
Moreover, she said, she cut off all dealings with Lopez when it became apparent that he had sexually harassed women who worked for him. "I think everyone who worked with Vito Lopez was shocked and stunned by his disgusting behavior," she said. "I had no idea he was that kind of a person, none."
Still, Quinn used her powers as speaker to benefit Lopez until he was disgraced. This story is a chronology of how she played the insider game with one of New York’s ultimate insiders, and perhaps a window into the kind of mayor she might be.
Read Barrett's whole piece and decide which is the bigger story to day - the slim de Blasio lobbyist story in the NY Daily News or the reported-in-detail story Barrett has at WNYC about Quinn and Lopez.
Quinn made sure Lopez's allies got the big jobs, the big posts, the funds they needed for the projects they wanted - all so that Lopez, who had undermined de Blasio in his battle to be Speaker, would back Quinn up when she needed him to.
That, to me, seems the bigger scandal here.
One of the loudest voices accusing de Blaiso of being a crook today is an old Lopez crony, Lew Fidler:
Former Comptroller Bill Thomson’s campaign scheduled a conference call this morning on the topic, where Brooklyn Councilman Lew Fidler played the role of attack dog. Mr. Fidler, who served with Mr. de Blasio on the City Council, said that Mr. de Blasio’s meetings with lobbyists reminded him of the career politician he knew very well.
“It is so typical of the Bill de Blasio that I know,” said Mr. Fidler. “They were caught red-handed meeting with people like Extell.”
Mr. Fidler went on to say that this lack of transparency from Mr. de Blasio is symptomatic of larger character flaws. “A candidate for elected office, for something as important as the mayor has to have what I like to call the ‘Three C’s,’” Mr. Fidler explained, alleging Mr. de Blasio lacked these qualities. “They have to have the ‘character’ to know the difference between right and wrong, the ‘common sense’ to know good ideas from the bad ideas, and ‘chutzpah’ to get the good ones done.”
Fidler shows up in the WNYC piece as one of three City Council members, all with close ties to Lopez, who got the most individual discretionary funds from the Speaker for the projects and proposals they wanted:
Citizens Union found that by June 2011, the three council members that got the most in individual discretionary allocations were Recchia, Dian and Lew Fidler, all Brooklyn council members with longstanding and deep ties to Lopez. They combined for $43 million in a single year, more than Quinn herself and many times more than the majority of council members.
One council member close to Lopez who asked not to be identified told WNYC: “Vito is the only county leader who actually sends the Council a list of what he wants.” When Quinn complied, she told the council member: “He should be happy.”
With Lopez's power days done, Fidler has shifted his loyalties from Quinn to Thompson, but that doesn't erase any of the "chutzpah" Fidler himself shows by attacking de Blasio on "character."
You gotta love when crooks like Fiddler, once allied with Lopez and Quinn, now gone over to Thompson along with the rest of Lopez's old Brooklyn power base, come out of the woodwork to accuse other politicians of being crooks.
Quinn's deals with Lopez won't help her become mayor now.
But the rats and roaches from the old Lopez organization are still scurrying around.