The media is lighting up like a pin ball machine on tilt (hat tip: Memeorandum) over the “coup” in the New York State Senate yesterday, but residents of the Empire State who follow the news are probably not very surprised. The chief characters involved in this passion play are well known, and some beat reporters from the Big Apple declared this to be a likely scenario before the last election, even naming the participants.
The move to take the Democrats out of their newly minted senate majority position (previously held by the GOP for more than 40 years) was initiated by none other than my very own Senator, Thomas Libous. He generally does a solid job, in my opinion, and has received my vote regularly. But he is also referred to by the locals as “Tom Libel-Us” on occasion, as he’s no stranger to political hi-jinks and dramatic theater in Albany.
The two key Democrats at the heart of this drama, however, play a much larger role and are well known to denizens of the Big Apple. First up there is the defection of Pedro Espada jr. to the Republicans, without which the coup would not have been possible. Some of my friends are looking at this as some sort of principled stand or triumph of “small d” democracy, but Espada’s move was actually forecast by the New York Daily News’ Bill Hammond last September. I’ll include a few of the most pertinent sections here, but please do go read the entire article. You won’t want to miss a moment of Espada’s colorful history.
The Pedro Espada Jr. Show is coming to Albany
Tuesday, September 16th 2008, 4:00 AM
There’s something ridiculous about a Legislature in which a pol as slippery as Pedro Espada Jr. could be the ultimate power broker.
Espada has spent most of his career double-crossing allies and dodging legal charges. Six years ago, the voters of the east Bronx cast him out of the state Senate in disgust.
By rights, Espada’s fellow lawmakers should be treating him as a pariah. Yet he is looking forward to being the belle of the ball when he gets back to Albany.
Why? Because his whim might well determine which party controls the state Senate – and the future direction of state government.
Republicans have a one-seat advantage, which could easily disappear on Election Day in November. If that happens, their one chance of keeping majority control in the Senate – their last power base in state government – would be to flip one or more Democrats to their side.
And Espada, among his other unsavory maneuvers, has shown a willingness to change political stripes at the drop of a hat.
What else does the report teach us about this “bold” Democrat’s background? After describing a history of changing parties more often than most strippers change g-strings, the Daily News goes on to describe a history of questionable ethical and legal behavior which goes well beyond what’s being cited on many Republican leaning blogs today.
A few months later, he was caught trying to direct $745,000 in pork-barrel grants to his own nonprofit organization, Soundview Healthcare, which runs a chain of clinics in the Bronx and at the time paid him more than $200,000 in salary. Espada, confronted by The New York Times, at first denied any involvement. Then he claimed he didn’t know such self-dealing was against the rules. The grants were canceled.
That was not Espada’s only time pushing the ethics envelope. In 1996, he lost his Senate seat when a judge found fraudulent signatures on his nominating petitions and knocked him off the ballot.
In 1998, he was indicted for allegedly using $260,000 in Medicaid money intended for his clinic to support his political campaign. He was acquitted at trial.
In 2004, seven of his Soundview employees were again charged with misusing Medicaid money – this time, allegedly diverting food intended for AIDS patients to a political rally. Three pleaded guilty. And this year, he failed to file the legally required reports documenting the finances of his Senate campaign.
His partner in the return of the GOP to power, Hiram Monserrate of Queens, isn’t very many steps up the ladder from him. His history of tawdry stories goes a lot further than the simple reports of his beating his girlfriend so badly she was hospitalized earlier this year.
In short, both of these guys were prime candidates to be picked off for a power switch, but they also present the Republicans and their supporters with a new set of problems. Because they are Democrats, the conservatives in the state have been stacking up media reports for ages about how awful they are. Holding them up now as bastions of democracy in action makes the entire effort ring a bit hollow.
All of this, of course, is set against a backdrop of the comedy of errors that has made up Albany politics for my entire adult life. It doesn’t matter which party you’re talking about. The state government has been incompetent on its best of days and viciously corrupt on the rest. Will the Republicans hold on the power they’ve just seized back from the elected majority? It’s hard to say. At a minimum it appears that they will need to do the entire thing again, since the session had apparently been gaveled out of session when the GOP actions took place, after adjournment had been moved, seconded and bellowed on a controversial voice vote.
Would a return of the state senate to GOP control herald in a new era of ethics in Albany? Anyone living here since the seventies would look at you and ask in return, “what planet have you been living on?“