Streams

An Unlikely Power Broker

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

For two decades Pedro Espada Junior has been in and out of political office. Once again he regained a state senate seat last year defeating incumbent Efrain Gonzalez Junior in the Bronx's 33rd district. And now he's become an unlikely power broker turning Albany on its head and helping lead a Republican coup. WNYC's Elaine Rivera explores the politician's past:

REPORTER: A day after he sided with the Republicans, along with fellow renegade Democrat Hiram Monserrate, Espada had no hesitation in how he wanted to be identified.

ESPADA: Pedro Espada Junior president pro temp senate New York

REPORTER: To longtime observers, the move was no surprise. In fact, he broke from his Democratic roots in 2002 and aligned himself with the state Republicans and supported their agenda.

The Puerto-Rican born Espada, who was raised in a Mott Haven housing project, has had a career marked by shifting alliances. Political activist and attorney Ramon Jimenez, who has written extensively about Bronx politics, says Espada's power base came from his Bronx health care clinic where he mastered the art of drawing down federal funds.

JIMENEZ: Pedro Espada was a child of the poverty programs of a health clinic that he created which gave him a great amount of patronage and political power.

REPORTER: But it also gave him problems. In 1998, he was indicted for using Medicaid money to support his political campaign. He was acquitted, but three clinic employees later pled guilty to using Medicaid money for a political rally.

Espada remains entangled with authorities. He currently faces thousands of dollars in judgments and civil penalties by local and state campaign finance boards for not filing proper documents. Espada has said his attorney has met with election officials and is working to address the issue.

Espada says his career has been about real delivery of services for his constituents.

ESPADA: And not just rhetoric but real measures that aid people who are stuck in the economic crisis, they're losing their homes that want us not to focus on not being good Republicans or Democrats but good and responsible servants of the people.

REPORTER: In Espada's home district yesterday, some of those constituents were divided about what Espada had achieved.

Pausing on the Fordham Road in the shopping district, Terry Middleton says Espada has to do what he has to do.

MIDDLETON: What do we have - what's different that we have now that's the best way by action - if you want to know if something is changing what did we have, what did we have, what did we get and what didn't we get - that's the best way to do it.

REPORTER: On the same block, Desmond Phillip felt betrayed.

PHILLIP: I think he's doing a disservice to the Democrats as well as the Governor Paterson...they actually went through a lot to try to gain all the seats in the Senate and for him to do that coup with the Republicans was underhanded and it just shows the dysfunction in state government...

REPORTER: Espada is up for re-election in 2010. For WNYC, I'm Elaine Rivera.

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