ALBANY—They’re allied with him in the quest to wrest control of the State Senate leadership, but there are some lingering misgivings among Republicans in the chamber about the partnership with State Senator Pedro Espada Jr.
“Several of them are in ‘Oh my God, what have we done’ mode,” said one Republican who is close to many of the senators. “Pedro is obviously enjoying this immensely. The image of Dean standing mute while Pedro pontificates is a little much. And the general stoppage … some are saying we never should have done it, some are saying, they should have said bring three or four or don’t come.”
That much seemed clear Thursday when the two top figures in the Republican-led coalition—Espada and State Senator Dean Skelos—emerged from a negotiating session.
Espada proclaimed he had Skelos’ support. Skelos said nothing. When pressed, his comments were less than clear.
Later in the day, Skelos issued a statement decrying attacks against Espada and touting the historic nature of the first Latino to attain the title of president pro tempore. There was also this line: “The members of the Senate Republican Conference stand solidly behind Senator Espada as Temporary President and we look forward to building our reform coalition together.”
Still, no first-person declaration. Skelos was pressed by the Times Union‘s Irene Jay Liu in a walk-and-talk. She asked if Skelos was “going to stand by him throughout this.”
“I’m going to stand beside him because that was the vote of the Senate,” Skelos said.
Since the coup first happened two weeks ago, I’ve asked Republicans whether they were concerned about welcoming the much-investigated Espada into the fold. Either they’re actually thrilled at ceding a bunch of authority to a free agent and not even getting into the majority for doing so, or they’re simply showing more message discipline than Democrats, who are currently locked into their own unsavory bargain with State Senator Hiram Monserrate.
“I was more concerned with making changes,” State Senator Kemp Hannon, a Long Island Republican, told me the day after the coup. “With making sure there is a fair budget in this state, which there is not. With making sure there is fair funding of the M.T.A., which there is not. With making sure there is property tax changes, which there is not. If all of those things can be addressed, then the voters will be responsible for addressing all this set of other questions that exist.”
As negotiations over power-sharing started, I asked State Senator Joe Griffo if he would want Espada to have a seat at the bipartisan table.
“Anybody who supports those rules changes, which I think are substantive and dramatic, those are the kind of people that I think we need to continue to say we’ll work together with to move forward on the critical issues facing New York,” he said. And Espada, as a colleague?
“I think the last I heard is that he remains a member of the Democratic Party, and that we’re welcoming anybody who wants to work with us to try to change the way we do government in Albany,” he replied.
The strongest statement of support I’ve heard for Espada came from State Senator Marty Golden, who attacked the Democrats for attacking Espada.
“Right now he’s innocent until proven guilty. I’ve had the privilege of working with them in the past, and I’ve found he’s an all-right guy, and I’ve found him and his son, who I worked with on the City Council, to be good family people,” Golden said.
Golden was somewhat more judgmental about the other defecting Democrat earlier this year, when Monserrate was first arrested on charges of glassing his girlfriend in the face.
Golden explained: “Here, he had been arrested. This guy [Espada] hasn’t been indicted. This guy hasn’t done anything wrong yet, although the Democrats would want you to believe he has.”
“The question is not ‘yet,’ he hasn’t done anything wrong at all. The Dems would want you to believe ‘yet’ is the word,” he said. “We’ll see what happens. Grand juries meet on a regular basis, and sometimes they file charges and sometimes they don’t.”