A Tale From the Slush Fund

A top Brooklyn pol uses the pork barrel against cancer

But the grant stands out for other reasons.

Lopez represents the neighborhoods of Bushwick and Williamsburg, an area that includes some of the city's poorest areas and is located miles away from Memorial Sloan-Kettering, which is on Manhattan's wealthy Upper East Side. There are plenty of cancer sufferers in Lopez's district, but the disease doesn't strike residents in the area any more often than those in the rest of the city, health studies show. The biggest local health problem, according to a 2006 survey by the city's department of health, is asthma: Hospitalization rates for asthma attacks suffered by both children and adults in the area are double that of the rest of Brooklyn, as well as the city as a whole. Infant mortality rates are also higher than the city average, the study found. When it comes to cancer, the most alarming local health indicator, analysts determined, is that more than half of adult males in the district have not undergone colonoscopies, the all-important safeguard against colon cancer.

Lopez chairs the assembly's influential housing committee and serves on committees for economic development, rules, and social services. But he said that health has been an important issue for him as a legislator. "I sign on to every bill that talks about health, about helping people through illnesses. Is that because I became ill? Perhaps." The newly released records show that as a member of Brooklyn's assembly delegation, Lopez has joined his colleagues in steering funds to other cancer prevention programs, such as providing mammograms for uninsured women. But those grants are for small amounts of $1,000 or $2,000 apiece, and the cost is apportioned among each of the legislators.

Dem and dose: Brooklyn pol Vito Lopez
photo: Miltin Signman Walters/New York Post
Dem and dose: Brooklyn pol Vito Lopez

Had he ever considered sending his annual $50,000 to other cancer research facilities? "No one has ever asked me," he responded.

The member-item data show that Lopez also didn't search very hard in choosing where else to send his annual funding. Aside from the $50,000 to Sloan-Kettering, the rest of Lopez's individual member-item grants in recent years have gone to a large nonprofit community organization in his district with which he is closely connected. Lopez has sent $130,000 annually, in three separate grants, to the Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council and one of its affiliates, the North Brooklyn Residents Association. For many years Lopez was a paid consultant to the organization. He also lives with the organization's $116,000-a-year housing director, Angela Battaglia.

Had he ever considered that as a possible ethical conflict? "No. Absolutely not," Lopez said. "I will help and continue to help programs that do a good job. That's how I feel about it. And that's a direct quote."

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