Thursday, September 4, 2008

State Senate race a real disgrace

by Candice M. Giove
Riverdale Review, 09/04/2008

Pedro Espada Jr. is trying to unseat State Senator Efrain Gonzalez Jr. in any way possible, from luring people with grocery giveaway events to wooing Democrats with awards.

The candidate also sent out a mailing, just in time for the September 9 primary, reminding potential voters that Gonzalez was charged with funneling members items meant to help community organizations into his own pocket to lavishing himself with jewelry, clothing and a vacation home, among other things. Gonzalez's trial has been delayed.

The Espada campaign's bilingual mailer calls Gonzalez "the shame of our borough" and further exclaims, "He stole our children's money and future!"

But despite the malfeasance alleged by federal prosecutors—printing up political-themed cigar bands for his company, renovating his mother-in-law's apartment in the Dominican Republic and paying his daughter's college on the taxpayers' dime, many point out that Espada is no boy scout.

In the past Espada used the Soundview Healthcare Network's resources in an unsuccessful bid for the borough presidency in 2001. Several of his employees were convicted after being charged with using the nonprofit to push his candidacy. Espada is the organization's president.

In response to his latest quest for the 33rd state Senate seat, critics have made similar charges regarding the free food and book events held throughout the district. Announcements for the giveaways came in Soundview Healthcare envelopes, but at the events attendees found that they got a serving of politics with their free veggies.

After one of the first events, Gonzalez said that granola bars would not sway his constituents.

Espada also launched a television commercial, in which individuals sing their praises. One man featured in the T.V. spot is holding a copy of "Heart Healthy for Life," a Reader's Digest book handed out for free at one of the fairs.

At his latest giveaway at a V.F.W. hall in Kingsbridge, many Gonzalez supporters gathered across the street to talk to local voters.

The Gonzalez campaign has criticized Espada for not really living in the district. A challenge to his residency failed in court. But the campaign made their point on YouTube—they posted videos featuring Espada's "neighbors," who assert that he does not live in The Bronx. Gonzalez's campaign also cobbled together a clip showing his opponent's car parked in a Mamaroneck driveway.

Espada has also been painted a Republican shade of red by the Gonzalez team because he said that he would potentially sit on the opposite side of the aisle when elected—something that has Democrats seething because a Democratic majority is down to only a couple of seats.

To spread the word, Gonzalez warned voters of that prospect by hiring a person to prance around in an elephant suit in areas within the 33rd District.

Espada received a big endorsement from Citizen's Union this past week, though the organization did contemplate his past record. "Citizens Union remains concerned about how Espada's healthcare organization has contributed to his political activity, given that several of his aides pleaded guilty several years ago to such activity. He himself was found not guilty of similar charges," read the endorsement. "Given that his opponent, the incumbent Senator, is currently under indictment, without yet the benefit of a trial, for misuse of state legislative member items, and has not responded to Citizens Union's repeated requests to be interviewed, Citizens Union believes that the district deserves better."