ALBANY - The effort to oust controversial state Senate Majority Leader Pedro Espada in the coming primary gained momentum after one of two challengers dropped out of the race Sunday.
With just over a week to go before next Tuesday's primary, Bronx lawyer Daniel Padernacht threw his support behind Gustavo Rivera, the leading challenger to Espada.
Padernacht said he reluctantly made the decision after looking at poll numbers and deciding a three-way race would essentially ensure Espada returning to the Senate.
"I think Pedro Espada is very powerful and the only way he is unseated is if we unify so I decided to do it," Padernacht said. "It's difficult for me, but at this point, the race is bigger than me and this is what's best for the district and the Democratic party."
He said he will hold a press conference Tuesday with Rivera in the district.
A recent poll by the News Roosevelt Initiative, a political comittee seeking to oust Espada, showed that had Padernacht stayed in the race, he would draw away anti-Espada votes from Rivera, making it more likely the scandal-scarred senator could squeak by in the primary.
Padernacht's name will still be on the ballot, but the fact he will ask supporters to vote for Rivera should tighten the race considerably for Rivera, who has received the backing of key unions, Democratic activists, and even some of Espada's fellow senators.
"It's a big boost for Gustavo's campaign," said Dan Levitan, a spokesman for the Working Families Party that is backing Rivera. "Any time you are running against an incumbent, you'd like it to be mano a mano."
Espada, who could not be reached for comment last night, has sought to portray Rivera as a pawn of outside-the-district interests and insists he'll defeat him.
Espada is the subject of a civil lawsuit by Attorney General Andrew Cuomo claiming he siphoned $14 million from the Bronx health clinics he founded. He is also the subject of a federal probe into his health clinic dealings as well as one by the Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson about whether he actually lives in his district.
He's also being sued by a Manhattan tailor who said Espada failed to pay a $7,200 bill for six custom-made suits he purchased.