Albany

Technically Speaking (Updated)

A Democratic reader pointed me to this vintage YouTube clip from last summer’s Senate coup, recalling that while Republicans might be slamming Senate Majority Leader Pedro Espada Jr. now, there was a time when they counted him as one of their own.

This clip shows Espada taking the oath as temporary president of the Senate – the title afforded to him as a result of his decision to bolt the Democratic conference along with then-Sen. Hiram Monserrate, flipping control of the chamber back into the hands of the GOP.

Contrary to my faulty memory, Sen. Dean Skelos was, at the time, voted in as majority leader. Espada was not. The GOP split those two posts, which had been simultaneously held by ex-Senate Majority Leader/President Pro Tem Joe Bruno and his successor, Smith (until the coup, that is).

When the Democrats cut a deal to bring Espada back into their conference they very carefully crafted it so none of their members would have to cast a formal vote in favor of the turncoat senator, who was being investigated at the time for various infractions (one of those probes came to fruition today; others are yet unresolved).

Instead, the Democrats stripped the majority leader post of all constitutional powers and privileges, and provided the president – Malcolm Smith – with the right to appoint the majority leader.

So, to re-cap: There was a post-coup vote on Smith. There was not a post-coup vote on Espada – specifically so the GOP could not try during this crucial election cycle to accuse any incumbent Dems of formally supporting him.

BUT, if we follow this to the logical conclusion, that means if Espada is serving at the pleasure of the president, Smith could simply unappoint him in the wake Cuomo’s bombshell earlier today.

It’s unclear whether the Democrats are willing to entertain this, however, since there has so far been no formal statement on Cuomo’s charges against Espada. When last I checked, via Capital Tonight’s Kaitlyn Ross, the Democrats were still behind closed doors in conference.

UPDATE: Oddly, the old video, which was hosted by the Senate GOP, mysteriously became unavailable not long after I posted it. A friendly reader provided this replacement version.

Paterson And The Press

Governor Paterson took questions from the press today following an early Earth Day event in Albany (Earth Day is actually on Thursday).

He was asked about a wide variety of issues, including drilling the Marcellus Shale, where budget talks stand, property tax relief and the allegations against Senate Majority Leader Pedro Espada Jr.

Paterson punted on the Espada question, deferring to AG Andrew Cuomo and insisting he didn’t know anything about the investigation.

The DN’s Glenn Blain asked about a meeting the Governor had with his attorneys yesterday and whether he has been interviewed by the State Inspector General or Judith Kaye.

The IG is looking into the rescinded deal to grant Aqueduct Entertainment Group the rights to run VLTs at Aqueduct Race Course. Former Chief Judge Kaye is investigating whether the Governor inappropriately accepted free Yankees tickets and interfered in a domestic violence incident involving his former aide, David Johnson.
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Pro-Charter Group’s Radio Warning

Education Reform Now, a pro-charter school organization that is pushing to lift the cap in hopes of improving the state’s Round II application for “Race to the Top” funds, has a new radio ad up that darkly hints about getting “rid” of any lawmakers who oppose reform.

The ad is running upstate only and the buy is “significant,” I’m told.

Even though everything in Albany is stalled while we await some movement on the budget, the pro-charter coalition is pushing very hard on this subject and is specifically blaming the teachers union for New York’s failure to make the grade in the first round of “Race to the Top” funding.
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Hunter Campaign Attacks Espada Over Charges

The campaign of Desiree Pilgrim-Hunter just fired off a press release responding to the news that AG Andrew Cuomo has charged her primary opponent, Senate Majority Leader Pedro Espada Jr., and 19 others with ties to his Bronx nonprofit, Soundview. 

Hunter’s campaign spokesman Eric Koch said:

“The Attorney General’s complaint details a shameful story of an elected official taking resources from the community he represents – instead of bring resources to the community.  The Northwest Bronx deserves better than Pedro Espada. ”

“As State Senator, Desiree Pilgrim-Hunter will continue what she has done her entire life:  put the community first. That’s the kind of fresh start we need.”

As we reported earlier, Hunter is hoping to raise $600k in her bid to unseat Espada in 33rd Senate District. We are also hearing that Espada is expected to hold a press conference later this afternoon to respond to the charges.

Cuomo On Espada: ‘Stay Tuned’

Here’s AG Andrew Cuomo’s lawsuit against Senate Majority Leader Pedro Espada Jr., which makes for fascinating reading.

The AG is right now in the middle of a telephone press conference with reporters, and he just said: “I wouldn’t be surprsied if in this case there are criminal charges down the road…We believe Mr. Espada and Soundview violated the existing laws and regulations.”

Cuomo called the alleged looting by Espada of his Bronx nonprofit “outrageous,” and also made it clear he’s not quite through with the senator.

For example, Cuomo suggested the issue of the senator’s residence, which his Espada’s primary challenger, Desiree Pilgrim-Hunter, has been highlighting of late, is “being raised and looked at.” Also, potential campaign finance violations are being considered.
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Cuomo Charges Espada For ‘Looting’ Soundview

AG Andrew Cuomo just announced he has filed suit against Senate Majority Leader Pedro Espada Jr. and 19 former and current executives of his Bronx nonprofit, Soundview, accusing them of “looting” the organization’s charitable assets and using the money for the senator’s personal and political gain.

The AG alleges Espada siphoned more than $14 million from Soundview, including an unconditionally guaranteed severance package worth an estimated $9 million which was put into a contract signed in 2005.

Soundview also paid approximately $80,000 in restaurant bills for 650 separate meals for Espada or his supporters – including more than 200 meals totaling more than $20,000 from two sushi restaurants that regularly received orders from Espada’s wife and delivered to the Espada home in Mamaroneck (!).

The nonprofit also paid for trips Espada, his wife and other family members took to Las Vegas, Miami, Puerto Rico that were purported to be “business trips,” provided employees to work on his 2008 re-election bid and paid for $100,000 worth of campaign literature.

In addition, Soundview provides Espada with a $2,500 per-month housing allowance for the Bronx apartment he insists is his main residence.

The Soundview CFO and its board, which is packed with Espada’s family, friends, and Senate employees, approved the transactions.

“Taxpayer money was given to this not-for-profit to provide healthcare services to underprivileged patients, but our investigation has found the funds flowed into the pockets of Senator Espada and his supporters,” Cuomo said in a press release.

“Siphoning money from a charity would be egregious under any circumstances, but the fact that this was orchestrated by the State Senate Majority Leader makes it especially reprehensible. In New York, no one is above the law, and this suit should finally make that clear to Senator Espada.”

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Pilgrim-Hunter: $600K To Beat ‘Non-resident’ Espada

Desiree Pilgrim-Hunter, who formally declared a primary challenge to Senate Majority Leader Pedro Espada Jr. last weekend to me, says she aims to raise $600,000 to defeat the controversial incumbent Bronx Democrat.

“When we analyzed this, normally this would be a race where maybe $250,000 would be enough,” the community activist told me in a telephone interview late Sunday night. “But because of, you know, what this race is about and who this is, we know that we have to raise, probably by September, closer to about $600,000.”

Espada had $252,478 on hand in his main committee as of the last campaign faineance filing in mid-January.

Pilgrim-Hunter has opened a campaign committee, but hasn’t yet filed any reports. (The next one is due on July 15). She has raised $4,956 through ActBlue, and recently hired fundraiser Lisa Hernandez Gioia to help jump-start her money-gathering efforts.
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LG Follies

One of the two announced Democratic LG candidates, Ramapo Town Supervisor Christopher St. Lawrence took some subtle swipes at his opponent, Bill Samuels, who has pledged to primary whomever the presumptive gubernatorial nominee, AG Andrew Cuomo, picks as his running mate.

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While insisting it’s “fine” for Samuels to pursue his own path in the fall, St. Lawrence made it clear that what he’s angling for is to be picked by Cuomo – not to antagonize him.

“I don’t think it’s the year for primaries,” St. Lawrence told me during the Somos el Futuro conference in Albany Saturday night.

“This is a year to elect Democrats. This is a year to go out and work to elect senators, Democratic senators across this state, so we can take over the Senate and we can help working families in the state of New York.”

“…If Andrew Cuomo does not pick me – even if I were to be on the ballot and Andrew Cuomo wanted to go a different way or have someone else, I would support that candidate.”

St. Lawrence, who has raised money for Cuomo, said he spoke to the AG before he launched his LG bid and was told: “Go out and tell your story.”

“I have a great story to tell about what we’ve done in Ramapo,” St. Lawrence said. “It’s the same story we need here. I’ve closed budget gaps before. I’ve kept businesses in the Town of Ramapo. That’s what we need to do in New York State.”

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Monserrate Got Payment From Firm In Espada Probe

A reader was reviewing expelled Sen. Hiram Monserrate’s 27-day post-special election campaign finance filing and found something very interesting.

The former Queens senator and erstwhile amigo received $9,600 – the maximum allowable contribution – on March 9 from GDP Consulting, a Niagara Falls-based consulting company at the center of a federal tax and money laundering probe connected to Senate Majority Leader Pedro Espada Jr.

On the same day, Monserrate received another $9,600 contribution from GSDP Inc., which lists its address as 101 Rio Ave. (or maybe it’s Reo?), Cheektowaga. (That’s a Buffalo suburb, for you downstaters; and it is from whence the saying “As goes Cheektowaga, so goes New York” comes).

Interestingly, a quick Google search turns up a $3,400 contribution from GSDP LLC with the same address (using the Reo spelling) to the Committee to Elect Gary Parenti on July 10, 2006.

Parenti is a longtime associate of Espada's counsel, Steve Pigeon, a fixture in Buffalo Democratic politics and advisor to Tom Golisano, who also played a role in the Senate coup. The address of GDP is 7305 Porter Road, Niagara Falls, according to The Buffalo News. That is the home of the Parenti Accounting Group, which is headed by Jerry Parenti, Gary Parenti's father.

Espada, as you'll no doubt recall (who could forget, really?), was Monserrate's party-jumping partner in crime during the Senate coup last summer. Monserrate returned to the Democratic fold within several days, but Espada refused, holding the Senate hostage for 31 days.

Espada was also one of Monserrate's chief defenders in the lead-up to the expulsion vote and one of eight Democrats to vote "no" on the resolution that booted him from the Senate.

Monserrate's filing also shows he received contributions from" Sen. Carl Kruger (Friends of Carl, $4,000), Sen. Martin Dilan (Friends of Dilan, $5,000), Espada (Majority Leader's Victory Fund, $5,000), an in-kind contribution from Ruben Diaz (Ruben Diaz for State Senate, $5,000).

There's also a $9,500 in-kind contribution from Monserrate's longtime friend and staffer, Mike Nieves, for "professional services." (In other words, he was working more or less for free, except for the $10,000 he received from Senate Democratic Conference Leader John Sampson).

Monserrate still has $31,963 on hand, just in case he decides to end his listening tour and mount a campaign for something else - perhaps Sen. Jose Peralta's old Assembly seat.

Craig Johnson Moves On Nonpartisan Redistricting

So far, there are two “yes” votes in the Senate majority in favor of an independent redistricting commission.

In the wake of former Mayor Koch’s Albany reform press conference at which he released three signed pledges – and one letter – from gubernatorial candidates (announced and in limbo) promising to veto any politically-drawn district lines, Sen. Craig Johnson released the following statement:

“I have long felt that implementing an Independent Redistricting Commission would be a major step toward achieving the reform that Albany needs. For that reason, I support legislation by my good friend, Senator David Valesky, to create such a commission.”

“This bill, (S.1614), has been referred to the Senate Standing Committee on Investigations and Government Operations, and I will be placing it on the Committee’s May 4th agenda.”