It is probable that only a small percentage of city residents can name their state legislators. But it’s hard to imagine that anyone in the northwest Bronx won’t soon know that their state Senator is Pedro Espada.
Espada, a newly elected state Senator for the 33rd Senate District, which includes all the neighborhoods of Community Board 7 and much of Community Board 5, has catapulted himself to the top of the Senate leadership with some audacious, bare-knuckles deal-making.
By threatening not to support Queens State Senator Malcolm Smith in his bid to ascend to majority leader now that the Democrats have a two –seat majority in the chamber, Espada and two other renegade Dems – Ruben Diaz, Jr. of Brooklyn and Carl Kruger of Brooklyn -- extracted tremendous concessions from Smith.
Smith will still be the top Democrat in the chamber, but he’ll only retain the Constitutionally-proscribed title President Pro-Tempore. Espada, will be the majority leader and will control the Rules Committee, through which all legislation flows.
Diaz was made chair of the Aging Committee and Kruger chair of the powerful Finance Committee.
The deal was reportedly brokered by Queens Congressman Gregory Meeks and upstate billionaire and perennial political aspirant Tom Golisano in a meeting also attended by Governor Paterson.
Also reportedly part of the deal, and a concession to Diaz, was a promise not to bring legislation legalizing gay marriage to the floor of the Senate next year, according to the Times. The Daily News report on the deal implies a longer ban.
The Gang of Three or Three Amigos – as they’ve been called in the press – also exacted changes in the way the Senate is run, making it easier for Republicans to bring their legislation to the floor and assigning seating by alphabetical order rather than by party. The three Democrats have flirted with supporting the Republican leadership, making them unpopular on their own side of the aisle. But they’re now among the most powerful legislators in the Capitol.
As the Times put it: “The deal is a particular triumph for Mr. Espada and Mr. Kruger, who went from being pariahs in their own party to being two of its leading members.”
The rule changes that will allow Espada -- who still has not registered his campaign committee a month after the election accord --- to ascend to the carved out position of majority leader will have to be voted on in January, so anything could still happen.
But Espada's victory takes some of the pressure off Gov. Paterson to appoint a Hispanic to Hillary Clinton's U.S. Senate seat. Espada and Diaz said the lack of Hispanic leadership in significant positions was a key motive for their high-stakes political gamesmanship. They can certainly check that off their to-do list now.