The purpose of the sit down was to clarify some of Senator Espada's positions and to assuage the fears of this blogger that Senator Espada may not really live in the district he represents and may never actually open a district office in said district.
In terms of the district office issue, Mr. Yong said that the space the Senator was seeking (400 E. Fordham Road) is brand new construction and the lease negotiations were dragging on. Mr. Yong even said that the delay will actually save taxpayers money in the end. The landlord was seeking $90K/year in rent, and Senator Espada's team was able to negotiate down to $50K or $60K/year. The ribbon cutting date was set to be "around May 1." May 1 has come and gone and Senator Espada is still the only New York State Senator without a district office opened. Lease negotiations or not, that is a pretty shameful distinction to have.
The residency issue was broached, but the response was simply that Mr. Espada's primary residence is indeed in the 33rd District and not Mamaroneck (no matter what Marcia Kramer says!). My only response was that, while Mr. Espada owns an apartment in our building, I have never seen the fellow - ever. This post can serve as a standing invitation to our neighbor for a lovely dinner at our place. Whenever Mr. and Mrs. Espada are not in Albany, they can come and meet some of their blogging neighbors. Come on, who doesn't love a double date?
The presence of the $60K+ in campaign finance fines levied against Senator Espada was acknowledged by Mr. Yong, and he indicated that Mr. Espada had paid about half of the amount in early March (although I've never seen this reported anywhere) and was planning on paying the balance in the near future. Most of the issues were chalked up to "clerical filing and paperwork mistakes." Poor interns...is it lonely under the bus?
The elephant in the room was the MTA-bridge-toll-bailout-doomsday -fare-hike fiasco, in which Senator Espada was involved. At the time, it was being reported that Senator Espada was one of the handful of Senators who was refusing to support the Ravitch plan, which was to put tolls on currently free bridges across the East and Harlem Rivers to stave off onerous and oppressive fare hikes for subway, bus, and commuter rail riders.
Mr. Yong wanted to clarify a few things about Senator Espada's position on the issue. He emphasized that even if the so-called "gang of three" had given their approval, the legislation still wouldn't have passed. Mr. Yong indicated that the 'gang of three' was actually a bit ganged up on by the press (pun intended - boo yeah!)... they seemed to receive a lion's share of the bad press associated with this shit sandwich. Mr. Yong also wanted to make clear why Mr. Espada opposed the tolls - small businesses. The tolls on these bridges would disproportionately hurt small businesses, and Senator Espada believes that these very businesses are the engine of the Bronx's economy.
Another overlooked issue here, Mr. Yong intimated, was that the MTA was being allowed to mismanage budgets and operate without transparency. While Mr. Espada is philosophically against the tolls, he also found it disheartening that any bailout on the table would not force the MTA to change the way it does its accounting, balances its budgets, and oversees its transportation system. While I don't often agree with Mr. Espada, I do see some sense in forcing the MTA to change the way it does business and mandating it to be more transparent.
Lastly, Mr. Yong wanted to make sure Mr. Espada's legislative agenda was clear. Here are few of the things that Mr. Espada wants to work on in Albany:
- Closing loopholes in housing regulation that protect landlords who harass their tenants
- Trying to loosen liquor license laws to allow grocery stores (bodegas?) to sell wine, and expanding who can obtain liquor licenses and what these license holders can sell
- Legalizing medical marijuana
- Classifying domestic violence as a hate crime
- Boosting the economy by supporting small businesses - the experience of having to make payroll and manage a budget as CEO of Soundview Health Center gives Senator Espada a unique perspective on financial management and economic policies that work
*photo courtesy of http://www.citylimits.org/content/articles/viewarticle.cfm?article_id=3736*