Voters reject 2 of NY Legislature’s rogues, both faces of dysfunction, corruption in Albany

By Michael Gormley, AP
Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Voters oust 2 faces of NY’s political dysfunction

NEW YORK — The rogues at the heart of two embarrassing years of corruption accusations, partisan gridlock and dirty politics in the New York state Senate were forcefully ejected by voters Tuesday, leaving in tatters the web of political alliances that had long insulated the two Democrats.

Losing in Tuesday’s Democratic primary was Bronx Sen. Pedro Espada Jr., whose health care clinic in one of New York’s poorest neighborhoods is under investigation for $14 million in government grants it received that helped pay his six-figure salary and $1,200 pinstriped suits.

Also making his exit is Hiram Monserrate, a freshman senator from Queens who was expelled this year after he was convicted in a domestic violence case involving his girlfriend. He tried to get back to Albany with a run for the Assembly, but voters said they had had enough.

Espada was at the heart of a raucous year in notoriously partisan and dysfunctional Albany, going from Democrat to Republican back to Democrat over the course of several weeks, flipping majority control of the Senate each time and each time collecting lucrative leadership posts.

“The public already believed the Legislature was dysfunctional and state government was broken,” said Steven Greenberg of the Siena College poll. “Espada and Monserrate became the poster children and intensified that for voters.”

Some voters were happy to see the two go. Rosie Ramirez, 39, lives in the Bronx, but not in Espada’s district.

“I don’t like Espada,” she said. “I think it’s the right thing.”

As for Monserrate: “How could we keep going with him?” she said in Spanish. “He’s a fool.”

Even before the Democrats took control on Jan. 1, 2009, with a 32-30 majority after a half-century of control by Republicans, Espada and Monserrate were making enemies among colleagues who nonetheless could do nothing, or chose to do nothing, to stop them.

With two other Democrats, they dubbed themselves the “four amigos” and dictated terms to the Democratic leaders, saying in part that they sought a great voice for Latinos.

Shortly after his election in November, Monserrate was charged in a glass-slashing case in the Bronx involving his girlfriend. TV news ran security camera images of him dragging his girlfriend outside an apartment. He and his girlfriend said it was an accident.

Yet Monserrate, a retired New York City police officer, remained an effective ally to Espada, a Fordham graduate who was once a promising South Bronx boxer. Democrats chose to keep them in the fold, preserve their majority with its near-absolute power and substantial perks, and swallow their growing disdain for both senators.

Embarrassing to the Democrats and emboldening the Republicans who began bloc voting against most major Democratic bills, Espada and Monserrate didn’t bolt to the Republican coalition until June that year. It came in a coup orchestrated by Republicans using parliamentary tactics that befuddled the Democrats. With it, the Democrats secured leadership posts and the lucrative stipends and larger staffs they carry.

After more than a month of gridlock that included Democrats trying to lock out the GOP-dominated coalition, Espada and Monserrate jumped back across the aisle, this time with Espada securing the even more powerful majority leader’s job.

Monserrate’s bid to return to Albany ended Tuesday in the race for a vacant Assembly seat in the Bronx won by Francisco Moya. Espada lost to Gustavo Rivera.

In the closing days of the race, Espada was accused by a tailor in the New York Daily News of stiffing him of $7,200 for six custom-made suits and, through election night, of intimidating voters at the polls. Espada continues to owe thousands of dollars in fines for campaign law violations and has long been accused of living in the suburbs miles from his Bronx district.

“They have successfully ganged up on me,” Espada said Tuesday night after he conceded early. But he added: “As I go to sleep and wake up re-energized, I am ready for a new fight.”

Associated Press writer Cristian Salazar contributed to this report.

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