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Sunday, October 28, 2012

Despite sex scandal, Vito Lopez expects to coast to victory on Election Day

SCANDAL-SCARRED Assemblyman Vito Lopez is boasting to buds that he’s going to coast to a record win on Election Day despite calls from party bigwigs to step down.

The pervy pol has spent the past few weeks wining and dining his friends at pricey restaurants at night while hanging out during the day at his clubhouse headquarters and district office, where he has drafted two campaign mailers set to flood voters’ homes soon, sources said.

“He’s in good spirits. He’s telling everyone that he’s going to win by a ton,” said a close ally. The longtime powerbroker saw his political kingdom crumble in August after he was accused of harassing, groping and kissing women who worked in his office.

Lopez was stripped of his committee chairmanship and resigned as Brooklyn Democratic boss, but he has stubbornly held on to his legislative seat.

Political pundits predict the grabby assemblyman will cruise to victory against his little-known Republican opponent — Richy Garcia, a 26-year-old college dropout who has barely campaigned.

Dems outnumber Republicans by a whopping 14 to 1 in the largely Hispanic 53rd District, where Lopez has spent decades in office securing pork-barrel projects for his constituents.

“He still has a core group of supporters in his part of Brooklyn. They can still get people out to vote,” political consultant Evan Thies said.

The scandal, which broke in late August, has taken a toll on his fund-raising. The once-mighty Lopez has taken in just $14,450 in contributions since July, with the bulk coming before the harassment allegations against him became public.

Regardless, Lopez in his latest campaign filing Friday reported still having more than $1 million on hand even though he took in no donations the past three weeks while spending just $9,133. He also didn’t return any donations.

While Lopez has avoided public appearances since the scandal erupted, the Daily News spotted him talking with staffers at his district in office in Williamsburg on Thursday. He shut his door after being notified a reporter was outside and raced off in his gray Acura an hour later, declining to comment.

Lopez also regularly stops at the bodega across the street from his Ridgewood-Bushwick club office, where he buys newspapers and the occasional Häagen-Dazs bar, store clerk Saris Lopez said.

The assemblyman’s embarrassing censure and demotion over a sexual harassment scandal does not appear to have dampened his strong support in the Bushwick and Williamsburg district.

“I don’t care about the scandal. He’s very good for the community. He helps a lot,” said Dora Benitec, 46, who owns a restaurant near his club office.

At night, Lopez and his girlfriend, Angela Battaglia, have hit the posh Peter Luger Steakhouse and Giando on the Water with their close friends. “He was in for dinner last week with his crew. He probably got steak because that’s all we sell,” a manager at Peter Luger said.

Despite the endless stream of bad press, political insiders say Lopez has nothing to worry about. “The only way for him to lose that seat is to get caught in bed with a dead woman or a live boy, and even that may not do it,” a pundit said.

By Reuven Blau AND Rachel Silberstein / NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

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