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Monday, March 22, 2010

Espada Holds Town Hall Meeting, Says He Supports East River Tolls

Last night, during what was billed as a "virtual" town hall meeting live from Albany, Pedro Espada, the state senator and Senate majority leader, announced that he now favors tolling four East River bridges.

Charging motorists $2 dollar per crossing would generate $525 million of revenue each year, Espada said, and "directly pay for the free students MetroCards" the MTA is threatening to abolish.

His decision to support the tolls is something of an about face.  Last year, he helped crush a similar plan.

Espada's constituents and other interested parties were able to watch yesterday's meeting online or on BRONXNET, or listen in by phone. Questions could be submitted beforehand as well as during the event. Most pertained to the economy and the budget. Aside from tolling bridges, Espada said he's proposing raising additional revenue by charging non-profits property tax.

If you were hoping to hear Espada talk about Attorney General Andrew Cuomo's investigation into his healthcare network, or address concerns that his housing bill may benefit landlords, you would have been disappointed. If tough questions were asked, the moderator ignored them.

Some additional thoughts:

Espada deserves credit for at least trying something like this.  Many (most?) Bronx politicians have never held a town hall meeting - virtual or otherwise.

Nineteen people, myself included, watched the meeting online, according to the counter at the bottom of the live stream. Presumably a few more saw it on BRONXNET or listened in by phone.  If several others later watch it on Youtube or on his Web site, then the meeting was - ultimately - quite well "attended."

This format doesn't allow for much back-and-forth.  A question was asked (or rather the moderator relayed a question) and Espada responded, speaking for five minutes or so.  Then they moved onto the next one.   Shouldn't townhall meetings be more informal? More animated? 

The moderator had opportunities to ask Espada good follow-up questions, but seemed more interested in praising him instead.  At one point she told him, "You are a staunch advocate for civil rights, that's for sure."   It would have been helpful if her agenda - whatever it was - was made clear.  Or, better still, if someone else had run the show.

When we mentioned on Friday that this town hall meeting was scheduled, several readers left comments on the post criticizing the idea. You can read them here.


  1. For the record, Senator Espada accepted an invitation to appear on BronxTalk about a year ago. The appointment was confirmed on Friday before the show. On the Monday of the show, The Senator's assistant called and said he could not make it. We then offered him a variety of other times to appear on the show, which he declined.

    It's interesting that this "town hall meeting" was held on Bronxnet, the very same network that broadcasts BronxTalk, which because of its call-in format, is a virtual weekly "town hall meeting."

    Perhaps if the Senator had appeared on BronxTalk your frustration over the nature of the questions and protective nature of the format would not be relevant.

  2. This Town Hall was a complete joke. The "moderator" was not neutral -- she clearly was prepped ahead of time to be a shill for Espada. On the issue of Espada's so-called "rent freeze" she alludes to a "re-working of the numbers' -- yeah because the numbers do not add up. The back taxes the city may get will never cover the cost of the "freeze" -- everyone knows that. Frustratingly vague answer. Nothing from the moderator to get the details. How about asking for details on how the numbers will be worked out? Nope, just let Mamaroneck Pedro blather on about helping tenants -- when, in fact, his bill is about helping his fat cat landlord supporters get out from under a court decision that keeps many apartments under rent regulation. Oh, by the way, I submitted a question on exactly this issue - asking for the details. Nothing.

    This forum was so blatantly dishonest and was pure propaganda. The Great Leader in North Korea is subjected to tougher questioning.

    It would be wonderful to see Pedro from Mamaroneck face real questions from the likes of Gary Axelbank -- I'm not holding my breath. Pedro's name may mean "sword" in Spanish -- but the lack of guts on display in this Town Hall and his refusal to sit down with a real questioner suggest to me he's barely a "cuchillo par untar" (butter knife).

  3. This was not a Town Hall Meeting. It was more like a political campaign event completely controlled by Espada. He has a schill imbedded on his "show", prepared questions, an audience less than two dozen somewhere out there on the internet, and this is his way of interacting with his constituents?

    Folks, we have a first here...a politician in a virtual bubble isolating himself from live contact with the people of his district.

    Maybe the ethics of this should be investigated. No real audience, questions presented by a seemingly partial fan of his, no follow-up on his responses, just praise from the "moderator"...walks like a political informational ad, talks like a political informational ad...it is a...

    Watch for this "Virtual Town Hall Event", sans people, in his next newsletter. Witnin the bubble of his virtual reality, he has a constituency of one, himself.

  4. At least he's giving out "free fruit and vegetables" instead of turkeys now...

  5. "It's easy to point a gun at the governor"???

    Imagine what he says when it's NOT scripted!!!!!!!

  6. Scary a guy who thinks you could get a TWO family house around 204th Street with a $300,000 mortgage is trying to craft legislation for affordable housing!

  7. Does Pedro even know where his office in Norwood is located?

    "The Bainbridge office is located right across the street from the emergency room at Montefiore Hospital."

    So, um, no.

    But hey, he's only off by a block. If he stood outside the emergency room, maybe someone who actually lives in the neighborhood could give him directions to his office!


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