Assemblyman Vito Lopez announced Tuesday that he won’t seek reelection asÂ chairman of the Brooklyn Democratic Party, but vowed to remain in the AssemblyÂ and to fight allegations that he sexually harassed women on his staff.
In a heavily Democratic city, Mr. Lopez presided over the party organizationÂ of its bluest borough for almost six years. But since accusations of sexualÂ harassment against him surfaced last Friday, many in the city’s political classÂ have called on him to step down from his leadership post as well as from theÂ Assembly.
But Mr. Lopez vows to remain a legislator.
“The onslaught of character attacks has put enormous emotional pressures onÂ my family and close friends,” Mr. Lopez said in a statement. “I cannot sit byÂ and allow that to continue. My political history has been to fight throughÂ challenges and political conflicts but, for the sake of loved ones and theÂ Democratic Party, it is important that I take this action.”
“I have never sexually harassed any staff and I hope and intend to prove inÂ the coming months the political nature of these accusations,” he said.
Mr. Lopez has chaired the Brooklyn party since 2006, replacing ClarenceÂ Norman, who was convicted of accepting illegal campaign contributions andÂ jailed.
Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz said in a statement that he wasÂ “relieved” that Mr. Lopez had chosen to resign as party chairman. He called onÂ the new chair to heal the rifts in the county organization.
“The new chair will face the task of reforming and reinvigorating theÂ party in Brooklyn and making the Kings County Democratic Committee the pride ofÂ the Democratic Party across the nation,” Mr. Markowitz said.
Mr. Lopez leaves no obvious successor as county chairman. That decision willÂ fall to Brooklyn’s 41 other Democratic district leaders, who are also the onlyÂ officials eligible to replace Mr. Lopez as head of the party. The executiveÂ committee will vote soon after the Sept. 13 primary election, though partyÂ insiders expect to meet before the primary, too.
Former Assemblyman Frank Seddio, who heads a southern Brooklyn political clubÂ that had supported Mr. Lopez, is said to be making phone calls to gather supportÂ to replace him. Mr. Seddio would have to abandon his run for City Council nextÂ year in order to serve as chairman for an extended time. (City Council membersÂ are ineligible to be county leader.) Mr. Seddio didn’t return calls seekingÂ comment.
Assemblymembers Annette Robinson and Felix Ortiz have also been suggested asÂ replacements, as has district leader Walter Mosley (now running to succeedÂ Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries) and Joseph Bova, head of the South Brooklyn StarsÂ and Stripes Democratic Club.
Insiders suspect that ethnic politics will come into play in choosing Mr.Â Lopez’s successor.
“This is a very narrow group of voters here,” one insider said. “If aÂ candidate has a core five or six people from different parts of the party, youÂ send them all out to feel out other people in their faction: southern BrooklynÂ white guys, the brownstone folks, blacks, Latinos. If you got one person fromÂ each group, you’re way ahead of the game.”