As gunfire rang out, Lopez sprung into action


By Lincoln Anderson

On the left shoulder of her light-blue suit, Councilmember Margarita Lopez had a faded red blotch. It looked like perhaps lipstick that had been smeared. But it was blood.

Still looking stunned and worn, Lopez was standing in the City Hall parking lot, where she had just been talking to other Councilmembers. John Crotty, a friend, who works at City Hall, came by and touched her on the arm.

“I heard what you did,” he said with a smile.

Just before shots rang out in the City Council last Wednesday afternoon, Lopez had gotten up from her desk and was standing in the aisle of the Council’s chamber to congratulate a group of 8-to-12-year-old beauty queens from the Bronx Puerto Rican Day Parade. The tiara-wearing girls had just received a proclamation from the Council’s Bronx Latino delegation.

“I am looking at the children walking back and I am getting ready to receive them. I was enjoying seeing these little girls, queens and princesses,” Lopez said. Luckily, the young girls had just gotten under the safety of the balcony’s overhang.

“It was like Bang! Bang! And then Bang!Bang!Bang!” Lopez recalled of the sound of rapid gunfire. “The moment they got under [the balcony], the two shots, Bam! Bam!”

The sound was Othniel Askew shooting Councilmember Davis, then standing over him and pumping him with bullets as Davis lay on the floor of the balcony. Lopez recalled she had seen the two talking earlier.

Lopez sprung into action, trying to help people avoid getting shot, knocking everyone near her down to the ground with more ferocity than a Giants linebacker.

“I began pushing everybody,” she said. “I went crazy, honestly I went crazy. I believed everybody would be better off on the floor. At least seven or six people I pushed onto the floor.”

While Lopez was a flurry of action, one Council staffer stood stock still in fear.

“She was like petrified,” said Lopez, who leveled the woman, who then tried to get up. Lopez just plopped on top of her and pinned her, yelling, “Goddamn it! Stay down!”

Lopez also tossed folding chairs on top of the people on the ground, feeling it would offer protection if there were any bullets. Somewhere in this blur of action she got the blood on her shoulder.

“When I pushed people on the floor, I hurt them,” she admitted. But at least it hadn’t been from a bullet.

Gunned down by a plainclothes officer on the Council’s floor, Askew was found with seven more bullets in his sock, apparently having been prepared to reload.

The next thing, Lopez knew she was running alongside the young beauty queens, shepherding them towards the “bullpen” area across the Council’s rotunda where the mayor’s office is.

“I keep saying, ‘Run! Run!’ ” Lopez remembered.

Bloomberg himself came to the aid of the frightened and crying girls.

“The mayor was pushing us in there. He’s a real gentleman, I can tell you,” Lopez said in admiration.

As she recounted the tale in the parking lot, a photographer from a Spanish-language daily paper who Lopez knew came up to her and she let more feelings pour out.

“God put me out there for a reason today,” she said. “God said, you Margarita you go to the Council today.”

Still, it won’t be easy for the girls to recover, she said. “They are going to be affected for the rest of their lives.”

“Mira,” Lopez said, as she pulled out of her bag the girls’ proclamation, crumpled and with a torn corner hanging off it. “This is what they came to get. People stepped all over it. I told them I’m going to take it and I’m going to make a new one for you.”

Lopez knew Davis as a lighthearted person, “constantly talking about things and joking about things that were funny.” She didn’t have a lot of personal interaction with him but knew him from working on issues.

After her bravery in the Council that day, Lopez, still holding the frayed proclamation, broke down a bit, became teary eyed. Probably, she didn’t even fully know yet what had caused Askew to shoot Davis. A week later, the details are still murky.

“You know what’s horrible,” she said, “that a life was killed. We do a lot of good things in this city. This is not what we are about in this city. This was not an act of random violence. This is an act of a human being who has lost his way.”