Anyone in the tri-state area knows that the embarrassment that is Albany has reached new heights the past week, with two state senators defecting from the Democratic side of the aisle to caucus with the Republicans. The two flip-floppers, Hiram Monserrate of Queens and Pedro Espada of the Bronx (or Mamaroneck, but more on that later), claimed that they pulled their childish antics - which held the legislative process hostage during a crucial time for lawmakers - for their constituents, for the people of New York, to change how things in Albany are done. When you peel back the thin veneer of false justification, however, it's clear what really motivated the coup: a grumpy billionaire upset about his taxes, personal beef with fellow senators, and straight-up narcissism.
Let's start with the grumpy billionaire. His name is Tom Golisano. In a nutshell, he helped Malcolm A. Smith (the politician formerly known as state senate president) and fellow Democrats take control of the political body by throwing money into their campaign coffers. For this, he felt that Smith should not tax him and his fellow noblemen. Smith went ahead and did anyway, and that did not leave big man Golisano happy. When Smith did not pay the requisite attention Golisano thought his presence deserved, he devised a plan to oust Smith from his seat as president and majority leader.
If Golisano wanted Smith out as majority leader, he would need a new majority. That's where Golisano's top political adviser, Steve Pigeon, comes in. Pigeon is a good friend of Pedro Espada, who also had beef with Malcolm A. Smith. See, Espada had backed Malcolm Smith in his bid for the state senate presidency and when Smith gained that position, Espada wanted some perks, including an extra capital office, $100 Gs for office rent back in his Bronx district and a bunch more staff members. Smith said no.
But getting only one Democrat to switch sides would leave the state senate in a 31-31 tie. To fully ensure that Smith was dethroned, one more state senator was needed. Enter Hiram Monserrate, who is most known for slashing his girlfriend in the face with broken glass. Monserrate has made no bones about his motives for switching; he's already moved back to the Democrats' side, saying he's happy that Smith is no longer the leader.
So it's an hierarchy of puppetry going on here, with billionaire Tom Golisano holding the strings that control Pedro Espada, who, in turn, holds the strings to Hiram Monserrate. It seems that Monserrate's strings have broken a bit as he returned to caucus with the Democrats. In the end, though, Golisano could not have picked more ethical, law-abiding politicians.
Pedro Espada is under two investigations as we speak. He's already been fined over $60,000 the past few years for failing to properly document campaign contributions. On top of that, his first investigation involves a non-profit that he is in charge of. Back in 2005, three employees of Espada's Soundview Health Center pleaded guilty to diverting $30,000 in money meant for family programs and AIDS programs at the clinic to Espada's fruitless campaign for Bronx borough president in 2001. Some of the other actions the clinic had been accused of was taking food meant for AIDS patients and giving it to Espada campaign workers.
The second Espada investigation involves his legal residency. A state senator must live in his district, and while Espada has a condo in the Bronx, his neighbors say they never see him and it's reported that his district offices are not even set up yet. New York AG Cuomo is looking into whether Espada instead resides in Mamaroneck rather than the Bronx.
Now onto Monserrate. He is currently under indictment for slashing his girlfriend's face, which required 20 stitches to close (and now has him facing felony assault charges). While he says it was an accident and that he tripped and fell while getting her a glass of water, there is supposedly videotape evidence that will convict him (according to law enforcement sources) that also caused a judge's "blood to boil." His girlfriend originally said that Monserrate beat her, but then did a 180 and now will not cooperate with police. As if beating a woman is not enough, Monserrate is also under investigation on whether a nonprofit group financed by Monserrate used city money to help campaign for him (which cannot be determined because, as the Times says, its books "disappeared.")
So don't get confused; Monserrate and Espada aren't doing any of this for you, the taxpaying resident of New York. They're doing it to get back at Smith, they're doing it to get their names in the paper and feed their hubristic self-images, they're doing it because they're some billionaire's puppets. As if we did not get this message clearly enough, they decided to take in a Mets-Yankees game in the city while Albany lay in chaos because of their actions. I mean, these are two people, one of which whose workers took food from AIDS patients for his campaign workers and the other who beat up his girlfriend, pretending to act on behalf of New York residents. John Liu, a Queens councilman, sums it up nicely while referring to Monserrate's antics: "I personally think he's having the time of his life." Yeah, but at our expense.
Photos - Monserrate and Espada taking in a Mets-Yankees game (NY Daily News), Grumpy billionaire Tom Golisano (NY Times), Monserrate and Espada debating whose hubris is more out of control (NY Daily News)