Espada scandal could be opportunity for Cuomo

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I just can’t get enough of those Espadas. These guys are unbelievable and actually fun (in an awful, perverted sort of way.) Senator Pedro the Elder reminds me of 007 — James Bond — who had a license to kill. Apparently Pedro the Elder has a license to be infuriatingly outrageous. After his son, Pedro the Younger, was put on the Senate payroll at $120,000 a year and then had to resign because the law seems to have been broken, Pedro the Elder went ballistic. According to various printed reports, he didn’t care what they wrote about him and said that he would basically make it his job to “out” the other senators who he claimed were violating the nepotism rules. That kind of rationale may be justification for rule-breaking when you’re 5 years old, but if you try telling the IRS that you don’t plan to pay your taxes because “everyone else is doing it,” you’ll get into some deep trouble.

Pedro the Elder also seems to think that Attorney General Andrew Cuomo’s intervention in the appointment of Pedro the Younger was “personal.” He warns that his reaction toward Cuomo the Younger will be vigorous. This is somewhat perplexing since Cuomo, already said to be investigating the younger Espada for violation of ethical and criminal issues, seems to have let Espada the Elder off the hook for violating the statute stipulating that you can’t put relatives on the payroll. The word is leaking out that now that Pedro the Younger has quit and that’s the end of things. Hey, if the law was broken, it was broken. It should be up to a judge and jury to decide whether anyone having a role in the hiring of the younger Pedro should be punished. In a curious set of remarks, Espada the Elder seems now to agree with the nepotism law and wants to see it enforced so what he thinks is the hypocrisy of the others who accused him is brought to light.

All of this has the public scratching their heads and vowing vengeance at the polls. The problem, of course, is that Pedro the Elder, who many people think will have a primary opponent in his district, might claim that he is sort of a modern day Robin Hood. In New York, ethnic and racial politics have been known to have profound political consequences. If Espada can go to his constituents and say, “When they come after me, they are coming after you,” he might actually win the day. The late Adam Clayton Powell, one of the most brilliant of all politicians, did just that for years in his congressional district.

On the other hand, some of his constituents might just think that Espada’s antics, going back and forth between the two parties, were embarrassing. In Espada’s senatorial district, many people think that the word “Republican” is an epithet. While Espada may just claim that he was getting the best possible deal for his constituents by essentially starting a bidding war for his vote, that strategy just might not work if people think that he was working for himself and not for them. This is very dangerous territory. One has to look no further than to the case of the late Senator Olga Mendez. She defected to the Republicans, suggesting that she was tired of her constituents being screwed over by the mere fact that she was in the minority party where pork was as verboten as in a Kosher deli. Her constituents threw her out as soon as they could.

As for Andrew Cuomo, he has to decide whether he wants to risk alienating the Hispanic voting bloc that he clearly needs in his expected forthcoming gubernatorial bid. Either he enforces the law and holds those who violate it responsible, or he doesn’t. My bet is that the people of New York will shout hooray if he finds that the law was broken and damns the torpedoes in pursuing wrong-doing. I don’t think you have to be a genius to figure out that if he just does the right thing, his popularity will continue to grow.

This is a time for courage. Real courage.

Originally Published in the Legislative Gazette, 8/20/09

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