Democrats Back Working Families Entry

The New York Sun
November 3, 2003 Monday

Democrats Back Working Families Entry

Democratic Party officials from across the city are breaking with tradition to endorse Margarita Lopez Torres, a civil court judge who is seeking election to the Brooklyn Supreme Court on the Working Families Party line in tomorrow's election. As Judge Lopez Torres acknowledged the group's support at a press conference outside City Hall yesterday, she picked up an unexpected endorsement from David Dinkins, the former mayor, who was at City Hall for a different press conference.
"I didn't know this was going on, but I'm happy to have stumbled into it," Mr. Dinkins said. "I think she's entitled to support."
Judge Lopez Torres has been fighting a quiet but important battle with leaders of the Brooklyn Democratic Party for more than a year. After serving a 10-year term on the civil court, she broke with party leaders reportedly for refusing to hire favored insiders to court positions; in response, the party refused to endorse her re-election to the civil court last year.
Despite the lack of party backing, Judge Lopez Torres waged an independent, grass-roots campaign and won re-election to civil court. Along the way, she also became a rallying point for reform-oriented Democrats.
A number of judges placed in office by the party have been indicted on corruption charges in recent months, and a special grand jury is investigating charges that party leaders have demanded money and favors from judicial candidates in exchange for support.
Earlier this year, Judge Lopez Torres announced she would be a candidate for the Supreme Court, which has eight vacant seats to be filled. But the judicial convention of the Brooklyn Democrats - a body controlled by the 42 district leaders who make up the party's executive committee - voted not to include her on the party's list of candidates.
Undaunted, Judge Lopez Torres met with a screening panel of the Working Families Party, won their backing, and will head a slate of WFP candidates on tomorrow's ballot. A faction of reformers within the Kings County Democratic Party is crossing party lines to support her, including Assemblyman Jim Brennan, Council Member David Yassky, several Democratic district leaders, and congressional Reps. Edolphus Towns and Nydia Velasquez.
"This is a great opportunity to change the direction our court system is going in," said Rep. Towns at yesterday's press conference. "This is the day you can do something about it, rather than complain."
"We will send a strong message to the Democratic Party in Brooklyn," said Rep. Velasquez. "No more games. This is about the independence and integrity of the judiciary."
High-profile Democrats from outside Brooklyn are also endorsing the judge. "I can count on my fingers, and have a few left over, the number of times I have strayed from a Democratic Party candidate," said former Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer. "But if I lived in Brooklyn, stray I would."
"There's this wonderful buzz," Judge Lopez Torres said. "There is a lack of confidence in the judiciary. I think that confidence needs to be restored."
She also praised the interview process the Working Families Party used to screen judicial candidates. "I think they did it on merit," she said. "How wonderful to be judged that way."

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