Robo-Call Ruse: Brooklyn Bishop Rings Up Voters In Backdoor Election Scheme

November 2nd, 2009
By Sandhya Bathija
Church Politicking

Tomorrow, Election Day will be here again! And in Brooklyn, voters will decide between Maritza Davila and incumbent Diana Reyna for New York City council member in District 34 — just another example of our democracy hard at work.

That is, if you discount what seems to be quite the sneaky political scheme by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn.

On Oct. 29, Bishop Nicholas A. DiMarzio robo-called every registered voter in District 34 to “thank” Vito J. Lopez, a member of the New York State Assembly and a Democratic Party boss in Brooklyn, according to The New York Times.

Lopez is not running for re-election currently, but to those familiar with Brooklyn politics, it’s pretty clear what the bishop is up to. Lopez hand-picked Davila as his choice for city council member, and that’s who the bishop wants to see win the council seat.

After all, according to The Times, officials with the Diocese of Brooklyn have “made no secret of their dislike” for incumbent Reyna.

Reyna and U.S. Rep. Nydia M. Velasquez have fought Lopez on a land-rezoning dispute, and the two have reportedly suggested that the diocese ousted a priest as head of local housing group because he annoyed Lopez.

Last week, Lopez was honored for his leadership in one local church, and Davila was there, too, sitting one pew over. A number of priests showed up at a recent rally to support Lopez.

As we all know, under IRS laws, churches receiving tax exemptions are broadly free to speak on issues of the day, but when it comes to elections, they cannot endorse or oppose candidates using church resources.

In the diocese’s opinion, these calls do not violate IRS laws. Church officials say they are just thanking Lopez for his help in derailing a bill that would have extended the time frame in which victims could bring lawsuits relating to sex abuse by priests.

“Bishop DiMarzio did thank-you calls on behalf of Vito Lopez, for all his support in the Assembly.   No endorsements, just a thank you call,” said George Prezioso, chairman of the board of the Catholic Citizens Committee, which allegedly composed the robo-calls.

But as Rob Solono, director of Churches United for Fair Housing, asked in The Times report, “If the church wants to honor Assemblyman Lopez, why not do this Nov. 5? Why so close to an election if it’s not political?”

That’s a very good question. Anyone who specifically sends recorded messages only to registered voters days before an election is likely trying to influence its outcome.

Let’s just call this as we see it: a manipulative way for the bishop to skirt IRS law.

There’s a reason why we don’t want to see churches turned into political machines – this type of back-room wheeling and dealing is one of them.

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