Pedro Espada Jr.
|Pedro Espada Jr.|
|Member of the New York Senate
from the 33rd district
2009 – December 15, 2010
|Preceded by||Efrain Gonzalez|
|Succeeded by||Gustavo Rivera|
|Majority Leader of the New York State Senate|
July 9, 2009 – December 14, 2010
|Preceded by||Malcolm Smith/Dean Skelos|
|Succeeded by||Dean Skelos|
|Member of the New York Senate
from the 32nd district
|Preceded by||David Rosado|
|Succeeded by||Rubén Díaz|
|Member of the New York Senate
from the 32nd district
|Preceded by||Efrain Gonzalez|
|Succeeded by||David Rosado|
|Lieutenant Governor of New York
June 8, 2009 – July 8, 2009
|Preceded by||Malcolm Smith|
|Succeeded by||Richard Ravitch
as Lieutenant Governor
October 20, 1953 |
Coamo, Puerto Rico
|Alma mater||Fordham University|
Pedro Espada Jr. (born October 20, 1953) is an American politician and former Democratic member of the New York Senate for the 33rd Senate District. He was the New York State Senate Majority Leader and Vice President Pro Tempore for Urban Policy of the Senate. He was at the center of the June 2009 change in power in the Senate, one of two Democratic senators who voted to appoint Republican Dean Skelos as Majority Leader; Espada himself was chosen to be Temporary President. After his return to the Democratic caucus on July 9, 2009, Espada was chosen Majority Leader of the New York State Senate. Dogged by scandals, Espada was defeated by Gustavo Rivera on September 14, 2010, in a primary election in his bid to retain his state senate seat 32.66% to Rivera's 62.21%. He was indicted on six federal counts of embezzlement and theft on December 14, 2010, and stripped of his leadership position in the State Senate the same day.
Early life and career
Espada was born in Coamo, Puerto Rico in 1953 and moved with his family to New York City at the age of five. His family settled in the Mott Haven section of the Bronx, where he attended the New York City Public Schools. He attended Fordham University, where he graduated in 1975 with a Bachelor of Arts degree. Espada subsequently took graduate level coursework at the Hunter College School of Social Work and also received graduate training certificates from open enrollment programs at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and from the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health, and received certification in 1990 from the Real Estate Institute at NYU's School of Continuing and Professional Studies.
In the late 1970s, Espada was a community organizer and educator in Harlem and the Lower East Side in Manhattan, and in the South Bronx. He established and served as president of the Comprehensive Community Development Corporation and was the executive director of the Soundview Health Center.
Espada had become head of the tenant's association at Stevenson Commons and led the effort in 1978 to open what became the Soundview Health Center after the city's economic problems led to a decision to not establish a promised clinic in the complex. The empty building that was to have been the clinic was leased by the group and $50,000 in federal grants was obtained, with the first patient taken in October 1981. By 1992, Soundview was offering medical and preventive care to 45,000 patients annually, and was also running a computer literacy program, serving lunch to hundreds of seniors daily and distributing surplus food. The New York Times noted that the health center featured Espada's name and image throughout the facility, describing it as having "elements of a cult of personality", though Espada explained that they are there as "The community has to know you" so that "In the end, they will trust you".
In 1988, Espada ran in the Democratic primary for the nomination in New York's 18th congressional district, which at the time covered the largely Hispanic and African American heart of the South Bronx, against incumbent Robert García. Espada, mounting a challenge against what would normally be a safe seat for renomination, made an issue of García's involvement in the Wedtech scandal, which resulted in the loss of 1,500 jobs in the economically challenged district. In the primary, Espada was endorsed by The New York Times, which called him "articulate, focused and knowledgeable about health and poverty" based on his experience with the Soundview Health Center and encouraged voters to "send a powerful message by supporting candidates who have been neither burned nor singed". Espada was also endorsed by El Diario and The Amsterdam News, but received few endorsements from political figures. García won renomination with 60 percent of the vote to Espada's 27 percent.
Espada was elected to represent the 32nd District, in the Southeast Bronx, which includes the neighborhoods of Soundview, Hunts Point, Mott Haven and Parkchester, serving in office from 1993 to 1996 and again from 2001 to 2002, with David Rosado holding office in the intervening years. In the 1996 primary, the Bronx Democratic Party took the highly unusual step of running a candidate against the incumbent Democratic Senator, and successfully challenged Espada's petitions in court. Espada ran on the Liberal Party line, and lost to David Rosado, 78% to 21%
In their 2000 re-match, Espada wrested the Democratic nomination from Rosado, who was forced to defend his seat in the Senate on the Liberal and Working Families Party lines. Espada, having the Democratic line, won the election handily.
In 2001, Espada ran for Bronx Borough President, but was defeated by Adolfo Carrion Jr.
In 2002, Espada ran for the Democratic nomination for a seat in the New York City Council, representing the 18th District. He lost to incumbent Ruben Diaz, Sr. by 97 votes. Espada sought a new primary in court, but was denied.
Espada was re-elected to the Senate in 2008 for a seat in the 33rd District, succeeding Efrain Gonzalez. The 33rd District is in the Northwest Bronx, including the neighborhoods of Bedford Park, Fordham, Norwood, and Kingsbridge Heights.
When his son Pedro Gautier Espada was elected to the New York State Assembly in 1996, the two became the first father and son in the New York State Legislature to represent different districts in the Bronx.
Espada is the first Latino to serve as Majority Leader, and is the highest-ranking Latino elected official in New York State. This position was given to him to help resolve the June 2009 New York Senate coup orchestrated by Espada, then-Senator Hiram Monserrate and the Republican Senate Conference. Monserrate was later removed from office following a conviction for domestic abuse.
Espada voted in favor of same-sex marriage legislation on December 2, 2009, but the bill was defeated.
June 2009 "parliamentary coup"
Though there were still 32 Democrats and 30 Republicans in the Senate, on June 8, 2009, Espada and Hiram Monserrate (D-Queens) were part of what was described by the Associated Press as a "parliamentary coup" and voted with the 30 Republican members to install Senator Dean Skelos (R-Nassau) as the new majority leader of the Senate, replacing Senator Malcolm Smith (D-Queens). In a press release posted to his Senate web page, Espada emphasized that "I remain a staunch, reform Democrat. I have not switched parties." and that his actions were intended to help end the "gridlock, paralysis, secretiveness, threats and partisan politics" that the Senate had experienced in the previous months and that he was not part of "a power grab or a coup" but was working to build a coalition to serve the needs of all New Yorkers with open and transparent government. However, when pressed by Wayne Barrett on June 11, 2009 as to whether he felt allegiance to the Democratic party, the Senator claimed he owed nothing to a political party that spent "hundreds of thousands" to defeat his past elections.
In the early evening of July 9, 2009, Espada switched his allegiance back with the Democratic Party, and was then selected the Senate Majority Leader of the New York State Senate.
At the beginning of his rise to power in the South Bronx, The New York Observer, in July, 1996, published a story that Espada did not live in the district when he ran for office and since he had been elected to the state legislature, in violation of New York State residency laws. He had moved to a house overlooking the Long Island Sound, "located on a cul-de-sac in a lushly green and exclusive neighborhood, only 16 miles from the South Bronx," in Mamaroneck, in Westchester County, the year before he ran for the State Senate, in 1991, according to Westchester County real estate records, reported the Manhattan-based weekly. When a reporter visited the house listed as the address for a car leased by the Medicaid-funded Comprehensive Community Development Corporation, for the use of his wife, Connie, "Mr. Espada could be found lounging by the pool, dressed in a white tank-top and baby-blue shorts, with a matching baseball cap."
Espada lost his bid for re-election, but was later elected to represent the South Bronx in the State Senate again, even as he continued to maintain residence in Mamaroneck. He claimed a co-op apartment in Bedford Park as his district residence. Several residents of the Bronx co-op say they never see him there. The Bronx District Attorney has opened an investigation, the resulting media attention forcing Espada to move into his vacant Bronx apartment.
By the time Espada was elected to the Senate in 2008, he owed in excess of $60,000 in fines to the New York City Campaign Finance Board related to races as far back as his 2001 run for Bronx Borough President. The campaign for his 2008 State Senate run had not registered with the New York State Board of Elections and fines were assessed against Espada's 2000 Senate campaign for required reports that had not been filed. Espada acknowledged that mistakes had been made but insisted that some of the accusations were unfair.
Steven Pigeon, who is a former Erie County, NY Democratic chairman is currently[when?] the counsel to Espada. Mr. Pigeon's name has been mentioned in connection with an election scandal in 2007 of the county executive campaign of former West Seneca Supervisor Paul T. Clark. Erie County’s Republican elections commissioner has alleged that former Democratic Chairman G. Steven Pigeon laundered thousands of dollars from Buffalo Sabres owner B. Tom Golisano’s political committee and others in an attempt to conceal the origin and circumvent contribution limits, in violation of state election law.
Espada was also investigated by federal investigators and the IRS for his ties with a consulting firm called "A-1 Multi-Service LLC" over suspicions that the firm, which appeared to not have a valid office, may be a shell company for tax fraud and money laundering.
On April 29, 2010, Espada was hit with yet another civil lawsuit for allegedly pocketing $1.35 million in a sham job trainings program. The suit focuses on "Espada Management Company", a company run by Espada's son and the company that was hired to provide janitorial services for Espada's Soundview Health Clinics. According to the suit, Espada paid the trainees below minimum wage - as little as $1.70/hr - to mop floors and scrub toilets.
Soundview controversy and investigation
Espada has also been repeatedly criticized for unethical usage of the non-profit Soundview Health Clinic for political reasons. In 2000, he was acquitted on charges of using $200,000 from a Soundview HMO in order to pay off campaign debts from 1996. He was found not guilty by arguing that the HMO was allowed to do as it wished with federal money. Four employees were found guilty of using taxpayer funds to help the campaigns of Espada and his son. In 1996, he was indicted for using $70,000 from a city-financed HMO to fund his unsuccessful reelection campaign. As of 2009, New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo was investigating Espada's use of the Soundview Health Clinic for personal political reasons. Clinic offices also advertise Espada's name on the front canopy, display campaign posters on clinic grounds, and display posters of Espada surrounded by smiling children.
In 2002, the State of New York pulled funding for some of his non-profits due to "administrative deficiencies and apparent misuse of funds." 
On April 20, 2010, New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo formally sued Espada for siphoning $14 million from Soundview Health Clinic for personal expenses. The lawsuit covers 5 years of spending, expenditures which include $80,000 in restaurant bills (which includes $20,000 in sushi delivered to Espada's Mamaroneck home), personal trips - including to Las Vegas and Puerto Rico - and renting a residence required to establish residency in the district for his Senate race in 2008. Attorney General Cuomo stated: "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." The investigation is ongoing and, though there are currently no criminal charges, they may be forthcoming.
The lawsuit also seeks to remove Espada from the board of directors of Soundview and replace the current board, which Cuomo has characterized as not an independent body, and "packed with family and friends that Mr. Espada could control directly and indirectly."
When being interviewed by WCBS-NY, Espada walked out of the taping of the show "Eye on New York" on April 24, 2010, after reporter Marcia Kramer revisited issues of his actual residence. Espada got testy when Kramer reminded him that when she approached him last year outside his Mamaroneck home, he donned an orange ski cap and held a baby in front of his face to hide from the camera before speeding off in a car driven by his wife Connie Espada.
In "Up Close with Diana Williams" on WABC-NY, Espada's defense has been characterized as turning personal against Andrew Cuomo. Espada has repeatedly called Attorney General Cuomo the "Prince of Darkness" and claims Cuomo's success to be because of the success of his father, former Gov. Mario Cuomo.
Reactions to the Espada investigations
Several state senators, including fellow Democrats Sen. Neil Breslin, Sen. Darrel Aubertine and Sen. David Valesky, have called for Espada to step down from his leadership positions in the New York State Senate. State Sen. Martin Golden of Brooklyn has also introduced an amendment that would force Espada from his majority leader position.
Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice also says that Espada "cannot lead anymore" amid the investigations against him. State Senator Eric Schneiderman, a declared Democratic candidate for New York State Attorney General this year, also called for Espada to not only step down from his senate position, but also forfeit his stipend.
On June 9, 2010, residents from the 33rd Bronx Senate district, which Espada represented, descended upon Espada's out-of-district Mamaroneck home in Westchester County to protest for his ousting.
On August 3, 2010, Pedro Espada was confronted with protestors at the State Capitol. Espada reacted angrily, took out some money, crumpled it and threw it at the protestors.
On December 14, 2010, Espada and his son, Pedro G. Espada, were both indicted on six federal counts of embezzlement and theft. The indictment was by U.S. Attorney Loretta E. Lynch, and also announced by New York State Attorney General and Governor-elect Andrew Cuomo. Both Espadas, father and son, are expected to surrender to federal agents on Wednesday, Dec. 15.[needs update] According to Attorney General Cuomo, the Espadas embezzled public money for personal use, including purchase of food, Broadway show tickets, and a downpayment for a Bentley car. The pair faces up to 55 years in prison if convicted.
The same day Espada was indicted, he was stripped of his title and position as Senate Majority Leader.
2010 re-election bid
Despite being under investigation by the Bronx District Attorney, FBI, IRS, and NYS Attorney General, Pedro Espada ran for re-election to his 33rd State Senate District seat. He was challenged by a number of candidates, including:
- Jose Gustavo Rivera, former Chief of Staff for State Senator Andrea Stewart Cousins who managed field operations in a number of states for Barack Obama's presidential campaign, and most recently served as Director of Outreach for U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. Rivera has lived in the 33rd District for over a decade, shortly after arriving from his native Puerto Rico.
The New York State Democratic Committee launched efforts to oust Espada from the party. The week of July 5, the New York Democratic State Committee sent a letter to Bronx party leaders calling for the cancellation of Espada’s membership. They said Espada does not support party goals, having briefly joined with Republicans the previous summer in a power play that ground Senate business to a halt for a month. In response, on July 12, 2010, Pedro Espada at a news conference said that charges against him were filed out of racism. Espada said, "If you look brown and you're an immigrant, you're not supposed to have power," outside the Bronx Board of Elections office. Furthermore, Espada proclaimed, "I have God on my side!"
Espada lost the primary election to Gustavo Rivera on September 14, 2010, 32.66% to 62.21%. In his concession speech, Espada blamed unions, outside influence, and the media for his defeat. Espada also refused to call primary winner Rivera personally.
- During the 2009 New York State Senate leadership crisis both Smith and Skelos claimed to be Majority Leader
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|New York State Senate|
|New York State Senate, 32nd District
|New York State Senate, 32nd District
|New York State Senate, 33rd District
|New York City Council, 18th District
|Chairman of the Senate Committee on Housing Construction and Community Development
2009 New York State Senate leadership crisis
|Majority Leader of the New York State Senate
- Both Malcolm Smith and Dean Skelos claimed to be Majority Leader.