Amid chants of “Vito Loves Children” and “Stop the Lying,” nearly 200 allies of Assemblymember Vito Lopez (D−Williamsburg) held a rally on South 5th Street in Williamsburg Wednesday evening to show their support for the legislator, who has sponsored a controversial sex abuse bill regarding the statute of limitations.
Scores of Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizen Council members joined parishioners from Transfiguration Parish and St. Peter and St. Paul’s Roman Catholic Churches at the rally, while two school buses filled with United Jewish Organizations members dropped their passengers off behind a row of metal barricades. Officers from the 90th Precinct struggled to contain crowds of the main rally, as well as a counterrally that swelled over both sides of the sidewalk, before ultimately deciding to close the street and reroute the B−60 bus.
“I want to thank everyone for coming to the rally,” Lopez told the crowd. “I owe you a lot of respect for your support. I will continue to move this agenda. The key is us working together.”
Lopez was responding to increasingly vocal criticism from Brooklyn−based Orthodox Jewish and Catholic groups who have been lobbying assemblymembers to defeat Lopez’s sex abuse bill. They favor a competing bill that has been introduced by Queens Assemblywoman Marge Markey (D−Maspeth) who is also proposing to extend the statute of limitations for sex abuse victims but favors a one−year window for victims to bring civil action against their abusers.
Lopez’s bill does not include this window but still extends the statute of limitations beyond its current limits.
Sources with both camps acknowledge that the bills are unlikely to be taken up by the Assembly in a special session this summer and may get pushed back until January.
Lopez backers said that this week’s rally in Williamsburg was to address the critics and to demonstrate the broad range of constituents who support Lopez’s work in the Assembly.
“I am a product of this community, I am proud of my community, and I am proud of my leader, Assemblyman Lopez,” said City Council candidate Maritza Davila, who stood by Lopez’s side for the entire rally.
Father Anthony Hernandez, pastor of Transfiguration Parish (263 Marcy Ave.), was one of the religious leaders who attended the rally in support of Lopez’s statute of limitations bill.
“Unfortunately we’re caught up in the political bantering,” said Hernandez. “The accusations are that Lopez is protecting pedophiles when in actuality he is extending the statue of limitations to the public sector as well. Sexual abuse is horrible in the public sector and the private sector, period.”
Fresh from celebrating a victory at the Community Board 1 ULURP Committee for the rezoning of the Broadway Triangle, UJO Director Rabbi David Niederman brought his members to the event in appreciation of Lopez’s affordable housing work in Williamsburg.
“This leader took a side in an issue and if people are unhappy with him, that’s their own choice, but he brought change to this community and we’re here to support him,” said Niederman. Joel Engelman, a Williamsburg resident who has been a victim of sex abuse and who helped organize the counterrally, was observing the main group from behind a barricade.
“We’re here fighting for justice and for the truth,” he said. “These people, if you go up to them, they don’t know why they’re here.”
Across the street, Lopez staff member Andy Marte took the microphone and pumped up the supporters.
©2009 Community News Group
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