Star-crossed lovers? Try a party-line- crossing pol


By Josh Rogers

Romeo, Romeo why didn’t you just act like a Capulet so we could have lived happily ever after?

Less than five months ago, Democratic Councilmember Margarita Lopez said that although she loved Republican Mayor Mike Bloomberg, she was not considering endorsing him because they were like Romeo and Juliet, two star-crossed lovers who could never come together because they were from two battling families, the Montagues and Capulets. She said the families were like the Democrats and Republicans.

Last Tuesday, five days after endorsing the mayor, Lopez said she was “very conflicted” about it, but that she was able to overcome her partisan differences because she doesn’t think the mayor is like most Republicans and believes he has done a good job for her East Village/Lower East Side district.

“When I see him, I don’t see him as a Republican,” Lopez said in a telephone interview. “I see him as bigger than that…. My only problem always was — he was elected on the Republican line.”

She had a lot of praise for the mayor on May 31, when Bloomberg released details of a $150 million plan to revamp the East River waterfront in Lower Manhattan, but then indicated she was not considering an endorsement.

“I am a Dem-o-crat,” she told The Villager then, stretching out the word for emphasis. “I’m a Dem-o-crat and Democrats do the Democratic thing.” Then she made the Romeo and Juliet comparison. In an interview with CBS TV news on Sunday, she acknowledged some of her statements before the endorsement were not completely accurate.

After the May press conference, she acted annoyed, perhaps playfully so, with gadfly reporter Rafael Martinez Alequin, who had asked if her professed love for the mayor meant an endorsement was imminent. At the time Lopez was running for borough president in the Democratic primary, which she lost last month. Fernando Ferrer, Bloomberg’s Democratic opponent, endorsed another unsuccessful candidate in the B.P. race, Assemblymember Adriano Espaillat.

She said political calculations or a quest for a job in the Bloomberg administration did not factor into her endorsement decision. In 1997, when she was first elected to the Council, Lopez endorsed Ruth Messinger for mayor, even though Messinger endorsed Lopez’s opponent. Ferrer ran in that mayoral race, although he dropped out before the primary. Lopez endorsed Ferrer over his Democratic opponents and Bloomberg in 2001.

This year, she thinks Bloomberg has done a lot to deserve four more years, particularly on housing, park improvements and crime. She said Bloomberg converted 23 city-owned buildings in her district to affordable housing and he did not let one vacant lot or city-owned building go to a private developer for market-rate housing, as was done under Mayor Giuliani. She said Bloomberg is much more accessible than his predecessor, noting that he agreed to open Park Row to buses after a small private meeting between Bloomberg and a few Chinatown leaders calling for the change.

She backs the mayor’s overall education record but says he was wrong to emphasize standardized tests in promotion policy. Lopez, a lesbian, also opposes Bloomberg’s decision to appeal a judge’s decisions ordering the City Clerk to marry gays.

“Sometimes my mother and my father disagree on this issue,” Lopez explained. “I continue to love and respect them.” Bloomberg is personally in favor of gay marriage, Lopez said. When her partner appeared to be dying three years ago, Lopez said she was personally touched when the mayor went out of his way to arrange for a blood transfusion.

Even though both she and Ferrer are Puerto Rican, Lopez said if Ferrer wins, she will not feel even a tiny sense of pride at seeing the city’s first Hispanic mayor. Ideology is important, she said, not “identity politics.”

There does not appear to be a lot of enthusiasm among Downtown Democrats who are supporting Ferrer. Whether because Bloomberg is way ahead in the polls or for some other the reason, it may be the sort of race that draws references to writers from the British Isles centuries ago. Lopez chose Shakespeare, and Sean Sweeney, president of Downtown Independent Democrats, went with Scottish poet Robert Burns.

When Sweeney hears about Democrats such as Lopez endorsing the mayor, part of him thinks of Burns’s criticism of Scots “selling out their principles for English gold. “Bloomberg is better than Giuliani, but he is a Republican. Sometimes you have to stand on your principles. They [the mayor’s Democratic supporters] are being practical and pragmatic, which is a virtue. Loyalty is also a virtue.”

He has endorsed Ferrer, but thinks the mayor has done well. “If [Bloomberg] wins, I won’t be sad the next morning.”

Would Ferrer be better?

“Better? No,” Sweeney said. “As good? Maybe.”

Councilmember Alan Gerson said Ferrer “has the potential to be a great mayor” based on his record presiding over the Bronx’s recovery as borough president in the ’80s and ’90s. He added that having a Republican mayor in America’s largest city “strengthens the G.O.P. institutionally, strengthens their ability to push their agenda, which is obviously not the agenda I share and not the agenda most New Yorkers share.”

Rosie Mendez, Lopez’s former chief of staff and the Democratic nominee to replace her, said she is not planning to endorse in the mayor’s race because she is bothered by Ferrer’s “flip-flop” on whether the police shooting death of Amadou Diallo was a crime or not. Mendez can’t imagine ever endorsing a Republican and is troubled by Bloomberg’s education record, particularly his fight to abolish locally elected school boards.

But Mendez didn’t criticize Lopez’s decision to cross party lines. “Margarita is an individual,” she said. “She has her own opinions.”

Lopez would not say if it would be appealing to work for Bloomberg, saying she had no comment about her future. Term limits will push her out of a job in about two months. She plans to take a two-week vacation in January and then begin looking for her next job.

Villager file photo

Mayor Bloomberg and Councilmember Margarita Lopez in June at announcement of plans for the Lower East Side waterfront’s revitalization.