A Long Look at Vito Lopez’s Mixed Legacy

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Probably nothing sums up controversial, disgraced former state pol Vito Lopez’s modus operandi better than the sign that tops the entrance of affordable housing complex Rheingold Gardens on Bushwick Avenue, pictured above. “Thank you Assemblyman Vito J. Lopez” it says, over “Rheingold Gardens,” as if that were part of the name of the building.

A lengthy and exhaustive look at Lopez’s impact on his home base of Bushwick by the BK Bureau may actually understate his accomplishments there. Lopez and the nonprofit Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council (which he founded) owned, managed, built or protected via legislation most of the affordable and rent stabilized housing in Bushwick as well as arranged health care, senior services and, in some cases, jobs for area residents.

When recent college graduates with arty professions started moving into the loft area, Lopez was quick to align his interests with theirs, passing the Loft Law, to help them legalize and stay in their apartments. Not everyone in Bushwick liked the guy or the appearance of machine politics, but he got a lot done. Now that he’s gone, by coincidence or not, the second stage of Rheingold Brewery development isn’t primarily low income and affordable housing but rather the usual private development common in Northern Brooklyn, with 20 percent set aside for affordable housing. That law, by the way — Lopez made it.

After court challenges about discrimination, Lopez project the Broadway Triangle development appears dead, but the Ridgewood Bushwick Council continues, with plans to build two 24-unit affordable apartments to passive house standards.

Vito Lopez’s Bushwick Legacy: A Mix of Scandal and Progress [BK Bureau]
Photo by Google Maps

3 Comment

  • Montrose Morris

    Very interesting article, and a great summing up of Vito Lopez’ career in housing in Brooklyn. Fascinating stuff. I guess it goes to show that politics and power can both do great good, and tempt people into great mistakes of ego and power grabbing. It has ever been thus.

  • It goes to show that political acumen has nothing to do with morals, especially in relations with the opposite sex.

  • Vito’s legacy will be very mixed. If I can expand MM’s comment; He started his political life fighting for affordable housing, but after a few years he didn’t have to fight anymore; he could just grant the wishes of the well-connected, moneyed groups who could provide campaign funds and voters. In the end the needs of the community took a distant second-place to political patronage and power-dealing.

    Oddly, one of Vito’s last big accomplishments, the loft law, was broadly announced to the arts community a month before he was up for re-election, in “information meetings” that looked much more like campaign rallies. After winning in a landslide in these art districts, the law actually took effect, and many artists discovered they were more likely to lose their lofts than keep them. One commercial realtor I spoke to at the time said the law claimed to protect tenants but it looked like it was written by lawyers for building owners. So, maybe the loft law is more emblematic of Vito’s political history than most people realize.