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