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House organ! Vito and allies have their own state-financed newspaper

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Assemblyman Vito Lopez and his political allies have found a nifty way of ensuring good press: publishing their own newspaper — and you’re paying for it!

The Bushwick Observer, a newspaper founded in 1995 and published by the Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council, receives about $70,000 a year in state funding for its budget — not including revenue received from ad sales.

More than 9,000 issues are distributed for free in Ridgewood Bushwick-controlled senior centers and housing developments, businesses and government offices throughout Bushwick every month.

The paper, which operates out of a building owned by Ridgewood Bushwick, is a more sophisticated version of the kind of mailers that elected officials typically send to constituents, consisting of short articles and photographs of city and state leaders attending Ridgewood Bushwick-sponsored events in Lopez’s district.

Lopez’s girlfriend, Ridgewood Bushwick Housing Director Angela Battaglia, reviews every issue personally before it goes to press, according to Ridgewood Bushwick sources. And Lopez is the publication’s primary focus.

In a September, 2010 issue, distributed a few weeks before the primary where Lopez was running for state committee and Assembly, the lawmaker is featured in five photographs and two articles, and graces the issue’s cover with Mayor Bloomberg at his senior picnic in Long Island.

The headline: “Assemblyman Lopez Picnic Draws Seniors, Gov, Mayor.”

Nearly all of the newspaper’s budget is funded from a member item earmarked by Lopez ally, state Sen. Martin Dilan (D–Bushwick), who contributed $70,000 in funds last year to the enterprise — about half of his $135,000 total allocation to Ridgewood Bushwick programs.

The practice of using a state member item to fund a newspaper is extremely rare. Records show that only one other allocation has gone to a newspaper, a $500 award for an upstate high school to start its own paper in the 2009-2010 school year.

Dilan’s member item says that the taxpayer money is necessary to enable the nonprofit to “continue to write, print, publish and distribute The Bushwick Observer.”

“I just know it’s a community paper,” said Dilan. “They’ve put in requests and I’ve honored their requests. It goes through background checks [at the Department of State].”

Last year, $48,967 of the earmark was designated for salaries for its editor and bookkeeper, $165 for supplies, and $20,868 for other services, which include $12,765 for printing and $5,550 in rental payments back to Ridgewood Bushwick, documents show.

The paper contains several advertisements from Ridgewood Bushwick-affiliated entities and legislative officials, including Dilan, though it is unclear how much revenue the ads generated. A spokesman for Ridgewood Bushwick declined to explain the specifics of the paper’s budget and the information is not outlined in Ridgewood Bushwick’s federal tax fillings.

Lopez himself has not contributed funds to the newspaper over the past two years — but has cited it at meetings as a paragon of objectivity.

Critics have lambasted the publication for serving Lopez’s and his friends’ interests and never featuring the work political opponents such as Councilwoman Diana Reyna (D–Williamsburg) and Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D–Williamsburg) in the neighborhood.

“The Bushwick Observer had no journalistic integrity,” said Esteban Duran, a candidate who challenged Lopez in his state committee race this year. “Bushwick residents deserve better news coverage from what’s supposedly a local community paper that they ultimately pay for in taxes.”

A Department of State spokesman said that the agency funds a variety of requests for programs involving nonprofits and is not in the business of determining what qualifies as news.

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Reader Feedback

Mike from Park Slope says:
Why is this news worthy? As someone that works in Bushwick, I’ve seen the Observer, and an overwhelming majority of the articles, written in English and Spanish are about the services provided by RBSCC. Many not for profits have newspapers like this. In fact, St. Nicholas, which receives financial support from Diana Reyna publishes the Greenline, a paper that often has Reyna on its cover. Why no mention (at all) of the Greenline, or of Reyna’s financial support of St. Nicholas?

The truth is, Diana Reyna will be unable to run for re-election to the City Council in two years, and instead is pushing worthless articles like this to smear Lopez so she can run against him. The problem for Reyna is that she really has done nothing as a City Council member, and community residents are going to need more than smears to support against someone who can point to actual and substantial accomplishments.

What is more, I’ve talked to long time residents about these articles, and even some folks who don’t always agree with Lopez say that they would rather have him up in Albany fighting for them and bringing home money for housing and senior services than someone like Reyna. They know that Reyna will just be another unimpressive junior member, getting scraps from the leadership, and neglecting her constituents. An honest assessment of Reyna, in terms of legislation passed, community involvement, and constituent services would find that to be the case.
Nov. 16, 2010, 6:54 am
Ben from Bushwick says:
looser looser big time!!! sounds like he is out of ideas,
its time to step down and he will....
Nov. 16, 2010, 11:31 am
anywho says:
Vito J. Lopez is a crook, plain and simple. Corruption takes many forms and the "Observer" is one of them.
Nov. 16, 2010, 12:07 pm
Carlton from Williamsburg says:
I am one of the only non democrat in the area and this is a reason why. From what I remember Diana Reyna worked for Vito and he supported her for councilmember, not til Nidia got her claes into her is that all this battling begins. I have lived here for 35 years now and even thou I don't agree with Vito I have to recognize his achivements in the community. Diana on the other hand has not really done much, espeacially in these last 2 years. This is what I have experienced in my neighborhood and thats all I have to say about that.
Nov. 16, 2010, 2:08 pm
anywho says:
What Carlton, you need her to hold your hand and wipe your butt too? No elected official is there to serve your every need, man up.
Nov. 16, 2010, 3:09 pm
Clyde Farnsworth from Williamsburg says:
Its time these crooks stopped letting the Duane Reads of the world bring their corporate corruption and soul-sapping retailing of garbage into our neighborhoods. That will never happen because the Crooklyn politicians want the advertising dollars at the expense of the small mom and pop businesses.
Nov. 17, 2010, 12:01 pm
Marko says:
"and bringing home money "

Yup, because we all know it's free money right? It just fell off the truck yesterday - finders keepers.

It is this attitude that is ticking people off and which led to the latest Obomba election results.

The Government has no money to bring home to you Mike. It must take it, nay -steal it, from someone else to give to you and your well deserving friends.

Quit stealing from your neighbors.
Nov. 17, 2010, 4:43 pm
Nicholas DiMarzio says:
You should have seen the issue last year just before the primary election between Vito Lopez-backed Maritza Davilla and his nemesis, Diana Reyna. Maritza was on the cover and she was featured in every article and appeared in 10 or so photos.

This paper does not merely publish stories about the services provided by RBSCC... it serves as taxpayer funded campaign literature for Lopez and his allies.
Nov. 17, 2010, 5:07 pm

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