Lopez Ends Pursuit of DTC Post, Citing Party Malaise for Poor
By Chéye Roberson
Anthony Lopez dropped out of the race for Democratic Town Committee chairman last week with an email to his fellow DTC members, charging them with a lack of concern about diversity and the low-income residents of Greenwich.
“When I say diversity—it’s been a little misunderstood. It’s socioeconomic status, ideas, diverse as a whole,” said Lopez. “We’ve got to get views from a wide array of people.”
The decision comes a year after Lopez dropped out of the race for the Board of Education. Last week he cited his dissatisfaction with the DTC’s status quo: “I am nearly completely convinced that our group is not interested in making, nor working towards, meaningful change that this party so desperately needs.”
He mentioned as well his obligation to his young family. “I have three young children who need a very present father in their lives,” he wrote. “I intend to provide them with the best of me….”
DTC Vice-Chair Rebecca Steinfeld said Lopez, who focused both the Board of Ed and DTC campaigns on championing the underrepresented in Greenwich, especially in matters of health, housing and schooling, “ran a really good campaign” for chairman.
But Lopez’s email was blunt in its criticism: “The DTC does not speak out against the clear socioeconomic and somewhat racial segregation that is clearly visible in this town,” he wrote.
Lopez began his campaign back in December, shortly after Frank Farricker resigned from the post. Lopez claims that many low-income, minority, and senior residents of Greenwich are suffering from unhealthy housing conditions and unfair academic discipline of students.
“Many of our residents live in apartments that are infested with mold, rodents, and roaches, and have brown water coming out of their faucets. “One resident said that they have to go to Stamford every night in order to bathe themselves and their child,” said Lopez in his email to the DTC. He continued, “The soil at Armstrong Court is contaminated. Children are getting sick, families are ignored by the housing authority, and the changes that they so desperately need are never on the agenda.”
Lopez said these conditions can have a huge impact on a child’s ability to learn, and the institutions must look at a child holistically instead of judging the child on grades alone.
“You may end up putting the child in special education, but all they really needed was an exterminator,” said Lopez.
Anthony L. Johnson, the executive director of the Housing Authority of Greenwich, disputed Lopez’s claims, pointing out that the Housing Authority is rated by HUD on an annual basis and has consistently received a high performance rating.
“It doesn’t mean everything’s right in each unit, but it meets or exceeds the standard,” said Johnson.
Johnson feels Lopez has no evidence for the health concerns raised in his letter.
“What evidence does he have for these accusations? He doesn’t live in these buildings,” said Johnson.
A neighbor of Armstrong Court, Dawn Fortunato, said, “My problem with the HATG is they found lead paint in an environmental report in 2014, and they didn’t tell the residents they found lead in the soil under the drip lines. They found mold and asbestos and didn’t tell the residents.”
She added, “A Phase I Environmental Report performed by Fuss and O’Neill [an engineering consulting firm] back in April 2014 filed by me to the CHFA—the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority—shows not only lead along the drip lines of buildings 1-5, but also that the fill is polluted site-wide.”
On Sam Romeo’s WGCH radio show, Greenwich Matters, Johnson asked anyone living in the housing units who believes they are affected by these issues to call in and voice their distress. No one called in.
Johnson said he doesn’t feel the socioeconomic problem that Lopez alleges exists in Greenwich, chiefly because of the social services programs available, including the Greenwich Housing Authority’s own program, which gives 15 scholarships to residents each year. Some residents have been sent to the Naval Academy on a full scholarship.
“We provide a safe place for our people to live and social services. Some towns don’t even have to provide assistance,” said Johnson. “Between these agencies we have, those resources are available to them when they need them.”
Johnson also pointed to a study done by the Chicago-based MacArthur Foundation, whose mission is social awareness and enacting positive change in areas such as over-incarceration, global climate change, and increasing capital for the social sector. The study claimed that moving to low-income neighborhoods of more affluent communities improves health and happiness over the long term among the poor. But the findings also show that although “health and happiness improved after the move, employment and children’s schooling outcomes do not.”
Lopez believes that the DTC needs more outreach programs to communicate directly with low-income residents and hear their needs and complaints.
Steinfeld, who also believes the DTC can afford to pay more attention to socioeconomic barriers and issues facing the Greenwich poor, said, “They are actively looking for qualified women and minority candidates.”
Lopez’s next step will be to “organize people who want to help” and “make sure we have enough pressure to get things done.”
Lopez said he gave up the chance to hold the position because it would be limiting to what he wants to accomplish.
“You can’t say whatever you want to say as chairman, because you have to think of the whole party,” he said. “And I don’t think being restricted is too good for the community right now. I love Greenwich, but I’m not afraid to recognize that there are issues that we need to work on.”