Tuesday, August 25, 2009

GOP Hired Buddies, Girlfriends,

But Espada Brought in an Army

By Henry J. Stern
August 19, 2009

We, and probably you, are getting somewhat tired of stories about the iniquity and incompetence of the New York State Legislature, particularly the State Senate.

The greed and self-interest manifested in Albany dishonors all of us. We are our representatives' enablers because we elected them.

Now each New Yorker can only vote for one Senator and one Assemblymember, and most of those whose conduct has been questioned are not from districts in which we vote. But the scoundrels apparently hold the honest folk in thrall, and what is the point of electing little angels who are led around by the nose by colleagues whose predominant concern is self-interest and the enrichment of themselves, their relatives and their business associates.

Last week, our attention focused on Senator Pedro Espada, Jr., because of his baldfaced attempt to install his son (who lacks the intelligence and the gall of his father) in a $120,000 patronage post. Under pressure, and with an investigation allegedly threatened by the Attorney General, Pedro G. Espada wisely withdrew.

In fairness, however, it must be said that the Espadas, although perhaps providing the most egregious example of how treachery and double dealing can be handsomely rewarded, did not invent patronage, or the practice of rewarding the party faithful and their offspring and consorts.

We received the following letter, which we call to your attention:

“While completely sharing your outrage at the shockingly brazen raid on the public till represented by the Senate hiring of Pedro's Espada’ son, let me ask you a question: How is this so different from what went on during the many years of GOP control of the Senate and Pataki’s tenure in the governor’s office? During that period, Joe Bruno's brother and daughter were graced with state jobs. The mother of disgraced former senator Guy Velella's out-of-wedlock daughter similarly received a high-paying position with the state university.

“The former secretary (and later, wife) of Senator Nick Spano was appointed to a highly-placed position with the Workers Compensation board. Is there really a qualitative difference between what Pedro Espada tried to pull off and the accomplishment of former Sen. Caesar Trunzo, whose son became the Lt. Governor's chief of staff, and whose daughter-in-law was named by Pataki as, initially, a deputy commissioner of parks and recreation and then commissioner of the Lottery?

“The only real difference is that those placements were accomplished somewhere other than where the respective power brokers themselves resided, while Pedro was ham-fisted enough to try to place his son virtually under his own roof. But past that, I see no difference at all.”

The letter was signed “An Albany Observer.”

We agree with the writer that patronage, nepotism and cronyism are nothing new in Albany. We are certain that there are many other examples of this practice, in both parties, which could be cited. What distinguishes Espada from the other is his use of the mechanism of switching parties – twice – to ‘persuade’ his colleagues to elect him Majority Leader. There are other facts that distinguish Espada from his colleagues. They are related in an article that appeared in today’s Albany Times Union, but not yet in any New York City paper. The author is Irene Jay Liu of the newspaper’s Capitol bureau. We link to the article here. Its headline: ESPADA TAPS $350,000: Senate Democrats OK Hiring of Loyalists from Majority Leader’s Nonprofit Amid Flap Over Son. We reprint the first six paragraphs, but the link covers the entire 21.

"ALBANY -- As Sen. Pedro Espada Jr. fended off scrutiny over his son's short-lived Senate job, the chamber's Democrat leaders authorized $350,000 in pay raises and new hires for their new majority leader.

"The new hires include employees of Soundview Health Care Network, the Bronx nonprofit Espada founded and runs, as well as the son of a former Soundview executive who pleaded guilty to funneling state dollars to Espada's campaign.

"In total, the Senate's Democratic leadership has authorized more than $500,000 in pay raises and new staff for Espada since he returned to the Democratic conference at the end of the chamber's June stalemate, according to payroll records from the state comptroller's office.

"Among the new hires is Jerry Love Jr., the son of Sandra Love, a Soundview officer who in 2004 pleaded guilty to steering state funds intended for family care and AIDS treatment to Espada's political campaign. Three other Soundview officials also pleaded guilty in that case.

"In a separate trial in 2000, Espada, Sandra Love and another former Soundview official were acquitted of charges that they misappropriated money in 1996 from a health plan for low-income patients to pay off campaign expenses.

"Jerry Love Jr. will be paid $40,100 as a special assistant to the housing committee, which Espada serves as chairman. His mother remained on Soundview's payroll after pleading guilty, and is currently a clinic site manager. Her son left Soundview effective Aug. 7, Espada said."

Now, what do we learn from this catalog of bipartisan misdeeds? We think one lesson is that when no one is watching, some people will take what they can for themselves and their entourages – family, legal, political and romantic. This is part of the old boy network. There are no female crooks who have been identified, only women who have benefited from their association with particular men.

We believe that it is wrong for anyone, especially elected officials, to pay off personal obligations with public funds. The situation might be different if these employees, even if chosen politically, devoted full time to their work and actually provided useful service to the state. In most cases, these are simply rewards, demanding minimal time and energy from the recipients. This not only wastes state funds, a particular problem when this year’s deficit exceeds two billion dollars, but it demoralizes and degrades actual state employees, who work for a living.

The ever-increasing number of political hires for seldom-show jobs is an insult to reasonable standards of justice and fairness in public service. It should not be tolerated. It is ironic that the people who are elected to make the laws in fact twist the laws for their own benefit so that their abuse of their offices is protected.

The most appropriate comment on this abuse of power was made by Jack Nicholson, in his role as the Joker in the film, “Batman” (1989). “This town needs an enema.”

StarQuest #584 08.19.2009 1063 wds

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