Posted: 1:12 am
August 30, 2009
Watch out, Boss Tweed -- here comes Pedro Espada. And from the looks of it, the Bronx up-and-comer just can't wait to claim title to the top spot as New York's most corrupt politician ever.
Which in this state would truly be impressive.
Espada, the newly installed state Senate majority leader, has never been convicted of a crime -- though he beat a 1998 rap seemingly only by the skin of his teeth, and four of his associates have pleaded guilty to various charges.
Of course, a conviction might put a damper on Espada's, um, aspirations.
Recall that Tammany's Grand Sachem, also once a member of New York's illustrious state Senate, was found guilty of stealing more than $30 million -- in 19th century dollars.
So, correcting for inflation, Espada's got a ways to go yet.
Which may explain why scarcely a week goes by without a revelation of some new shady ruse by the Bronx boss.
The latest? Espada failed to disclose tax debts of some $1.3 million when he applied for a grant for a new facility for his Soundview HealthCare Network. Attorney General Andrew Cuomo is probing that lapse, as well as other Espada funny-business.
But such an "oversight" -- criminal or otherwise -- would be a mere blip on Espada's long and, uh, colorful record.
One of the most noteworthy for sure would be the story in The Sunday Post last week -- about how he managed to steer some $1.77 million in taxpayer funds to a group, the New Bronx Chamber of Commerce, that had only requested $50,000.
Espada was apparently angered by then-Democratic Majority Leader Malcolm Smith's refusal early this year to fund either two sham charities (which Espada had set up just days before) or the Chamber. So he joined with Republicans, which helped them claim a majority and sparked the coup.
When Espada returned to the Dems, they made him majority leader -- and the Chamber was quickly alloted the cash.
Meanwhile, Espada's health-care outfit has regularly soaked up nearly $15 million a year in taxpayer funds, from which he draws a $460,000 salary. (The network also employs his three sons and many friends and political backers. And it contracts with Espada-owned firms that pay him even more money.)
Recently, The Post exposed yet another Espada sham -- a no-show Senate job he'd created for one of his sons, apparently as part of the deal for his return to the Democratic fold.
And there's more -- much more.
For 10 years, for instance, Espada never filed campaign-finance reports, which prompted fines of $61,000 and raised further questions about his use of the health-care network as his own ATM.
But with the power of majority leader, Espada will now be able to suck even more -- perhaps far more -- from New Yorkers.
William Magear Tweed's name has been synonymous with political corruption for more than a century.
Will the same someday be true of Pedro Espada Jr.'s?
Wouldn't surprise us even a little bit.