By Jeanmarie Evelly
During a two-week pay period at end of August, the State spent over $80,000 to pay State Senator Pedro Espada’s staff members.
Between Aug. 19 and Sept. 1, the Senate Majority Leader had 44 people on his payroll, according to documents posted on the State Senate’s website. The list includes five assistants, separate assistants for his chief of staff, upstate director and legal counsel, one receptionist, a community organizer and 14 people working in “community outreach”—among others.
|Michale Gary, one of many Espada staffers also volunteering for his campaign. (Photo: Adi Talwar)|
Espada’s Senate staff has also grown considerably over the last six months, as election season heated up. (He's facing a well-financed and heavily-backed challenger in Gustavo Rivera). He had just 24 employees listed back in February and now has 44 (Sen. Sampson’s staff size, by comparison, has remained the same, and Sen. Klein’s has gone down by one person since then).
Legally, none of these new hires—or the old ones—are allowed to do any campaign work on the company dime. Haile Rivera, who is handling media inquiries for Espada's campaign, insists that any campaigning done by Senate staff members is done strictly as volunteer work, on weekends or other off-time. Other staffers who have accrued compensatory time are using it to take a leave and campaign, he said.
Dick Dadey, of the good-government group Citizens Union, said this move is “entirely permissible.”
“Senate staff who have earned comp time are allowed to use it any way they wish,” he said. “Often, they end up, ‘volunteering,’ and doing campaign work.”
Meanwhile, Espada’s campaign disclosure forms, which he had to file with the State Board of Elections last week, show few expenditures that could be attributed to paying campaign staff. That means most of the people who have been knocking on doors and handing out leaflets, if not getting paid by the State, are doing the work for free.
Rivera said he himself has taken a “leave” from his Senate job to campaign full time, and that he isn’t getting paid, which is why he wasn’t listed on the disclosure forms.
He was, however, on the state payroll list as having received $1,615.39 for work done between Aug. 19 and Sept. 1. Rivera insists he officially switched over to the campaign on Aug. 24, which would mean he managed to rack in that $1,615.39 in just five days (including a Saturday and Sunday) of that pay period. (It should be noted that Espada compensates his staff well. Senate Counsel Steve Pigeon, who helped Espada orchestrate last summer's senate coup, made $5,769.24 during those two weeks.)
Even more puzzling than Rivera’s paychecks is his relationship with the Espada family. A community activist who (briefly) launched a bid to oust Maria Baez for her City Council seat back in 2008, and who has campaigned for President Barack Obama, Rivera said he and the Espadas “go way back.” He first helped campaign for Espada’s son, Pedro G. Espada, in his 2001 City Council race.
When Pedro Espada, Jr. was inaugurated as a State Senator last year, Rivera sent out a statement that called it a “historic moment in Bronx history.”
But last summer, Rivera released another statement blasting Espada for his role in the Senate coup that froze the state legislature for nearly a month.
“What Senator Pedro Espada has done today is the beginning of the end of his political career (at least in the Bronx, maybe he'll have better luck in Mammaroneck),” he wrote in a statement dated June 9, 2009.
“What Senator Espada has done will not, and must not, be forgiven,” it continued. “He will have an election next year and I will do whatever I can to elect a REAL DEMOCRAT.”
Rivera, apparently, found it in his heart to forgive: he took a job on Espada’s staff early this summer. When asked about his change of heart, he called it “one of those decisions I find myself explaining a lot,” and said he changed his mind after a long conversation he had with Espada’s son.
“At that moment, it was more of an emotional outburst,” Rivera said of the press release he sent out following the coup. “At that moment, I thought he betrayed the party.”
He sees it differently now, he says.
“I see it more as something that he had to do in order to get the majority leader position, that obviously benefits the district and brings money into the district,” he said.
“Would other people have used different tactics, maybe?” Rivera continued. “They use other tactics to get what they need, what they want. Let’s not kid ourselves, every politician does it. Every politician will sit down and negotiate what’s best for them.”