While State Assembly candidate Rafael Espinal might have looked a bit tone-deaf after getting called out once again by The Daily News after the paper already called him out for taking money from accused slumlord and shady hotel mogul Jay Wartski, the real issue might run deeper. Mr. Wartski’s contributions to Mr. Espinal’s campaign seem to be part of a larger pattern of patronage by a Brooklyn political family that seems inextricably tied to Mr. Espinal’s Assembly run.
Back in July, The News reported on the strong tide of displeasure coming from tenants advocates regarding campaign money that Mr. Espinal, who is currently the chief of staff to Bushwick City Councilman Erik Dilan, received from Mr. Wartski. The $5,000 was deemed unseemly because of Mr. Wartski’s rather sordid history with accusations running from reported failures to maintain his properties to illegally removing tenants in order to create space for illegal hotel guests.
Neither Mr. Espinal, nor Mr. Wartski responded to The News about the story last month, and the paper reported yesterday that Mr. Wartski has donated a further $1,000 to Mr. Espinal’s campaign, prompting the candidate to finally comment that ”[Mr. Wartski's] history doesn’t have anything to do with my campaign. … I’m not going to be influenced by who donates money to my campaign.”
But the more pressing questions might be whether Mr. Espinal was aware of Mr. Wartski or his contributions at all, and whether or not that money was spent more in hopes of influencing Espinal’s boss and seeming campaign benefactor, Mr. Dilan.
Mr. Dilan is chairman of the Council’s Housing & Buildings Commitee, which oversees many of the issues that would affect Mr. Wartski’s day-to-day business. In March, Mr. Dilan was called out by The News on his own ethically questionable relationship with another local developer and campaign donor named Sergio Benitez, who orchestrated housing for Mr. Dilan’s family in a low-income apartment , despite the fact that the councilman’s city salary made him ineligible for such a unit.
And while it would be unfair to tie a campaign staffer to his boss’ misdeeds merely on their professional relationship, Mr. Espinal has made no attempt to separate his campaign from Mr. Dilan or his record. In fact, he has done quite the opposite.
As City Hall reported a little over a week ago, Mr. Espinal’s campaign is being given an ethically querulous amount of help, both in terms of manpower and financing from the Council office in which he serves, and continues to draw a salary as a full-time staffer, despite the obvious demands of his own campaign.
In addition, City Hall reported that Mr. Espinal’s campaign manager, Michal Olmeda, hade made only $500 from the Espinal campaign since his hiring in mid-April, but has continued to draw $1,730 in bi-weekly salary for his work as a “field coordinator” for a State Senator—who just happens to be Martin Malave-Dilan, Councilman Dilan’s father.
Mr. Olmeda attempted to clarify the dual role he is currently playing within both organizations by telling City Hall that in regard to the Espinal campaign, “I’m only here on the evenings.” When The Observer contacted Mr. Espinal’s campaign office early this afternoon, however, we were told that Mr. Olmeda had “just left,” and was therefore unable to comment on any of our questions.
The guiding hands of both Dilans are omnipresent in Mr. Espinal’s campaign and, as evidenced by the contributions of Mr. Wartski, seem to extend in his list of donors.
This intertwining waterway of Mr. Dilan’s legislative activities with Mr. Espinal’s campaign is where Mr. Wartski’s money begins to flow more circuitously, as Mr. Wartski, who also donated $2,000 to Councilman Dilan’s campaign in 2009, is a registered client of the lobbyist/political consulting firm the Advance Group, which was also involved in the Dilan campaign that same year. From what we can find, it is clear that Mr. Dilan’s campaign at least paid the company roughly $700 for a phone list in 2009, but the Advance Group has not yet responded to our questions about any further involvement with the past campaigns of either Councilman or Senator Dilan.
And Mr. Wartski’s recent contributions might be the only ones that are readily apparent as this week’s payments to Mr. Espinal’s campaign were done through two LLCs created in the name of his properties.
While we await comments form all parties, we will continue to sift through the records of all involved to see just how much money is being spent in this curious case.