Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Mr. Espada's latest blunder

First published in print: Wednesday, September 2, 2009

So Pedro Espada Jr. is shocked, is he? Blindsided, even. What sort of political intrigue or outright outrage would it take by now, we wonder, to catch the Senate majority leader so off-guard?

The latest dust-up in which Mr. Espada finds himself involved actually smacks of business as usual -- at least by his standards.

Turns out that the person Mr. Espada appointed as his deputy chief of staff last month and fired this week, Onix Sosa, has a troubled past that involves managing dozens of low-income apartment buildings with chronic housing code violations -- even after his real estate license was revoked.

That, of course, brought the wrath of tenants advocates, an influential political constituency that already doesn't think he's sufficiently supportive of tougher rent control laws.

"I was shocked and, quite frankly, blindsided by this revelation," Mr. Espada says in his latest mea culpa. "Mr. Sosa came to us via several recommendations. Before I met with him, he was interviewed by members of my staff who found him competent, experienced in constituent work, and knowledgeable of the district and its issues."

Another case of Mr. Espada belatedly facing the music, in other words. But hardly a surprise.

Mr. Sosa's tenure of less than a month in his $60,000 a year job is much like that of Mr. Espada's son, Pedro G. Espada. The younger Mr. Espada lasted less than a week in a $120,000-a-year job that the Senate leadership -- but not the majority leader himself, he insists; that would have been against the law -- apparently created just for him. It's not so different, either, from Mr. Espada's five-week flirtation with the Republicans that effectively shut down the Senate.

See a pattern, New Yorkers?

Mr. Espada stumbles into controversy. Mr. Espada retreats. Mr. Espada offers reassuring words. Mr. Espada nonetheless suffers no lasting political damage and maintains his power. Mr. Espada does all that yet again.

Stay tuned.

Even with Mr. Sosa and the younger Mr. Espada off the state payroll, the elder Mr. Espada and the rest of the Senate's ruling Democratic faction still have managed to dole out more than $1 million in patronage jobs and pay raises. Some service to a state all too deep in a fiscal crisis, isn't it?

You'd think, in fact, that the Republicans would be up in arms over such self-serving politics.

Talk about a issue ripe for milking. If only the GOP hadn't been up to the same sort of mischief.

Turns out the Republicans made themselves a cute deal with the Democrats to settle the Senate stalemate. They're back to being the minority party, but they're getting money to hire more staff and give raises to people working for them already.

Some $13 million is budgeted for the Senate payroll over the next 15 months, mostly for the GOP.

But who'll complain? Not Mr. Espada, surely.

The issue:

The Senate leader tries to put a spin on his latest ill-fated hire.

The Stakes:

Does anyone think he's truly shocked?

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