ALBANY—State Senator-elect Pedro Espada Jr. doesn't know who he'll support to lead his chamber. He's talking to everyone – Republican, Democrat…whoever. But not to fellow State Senator Malcolm Smith, who he repeatedly called "a scoundrel and a liar" late Wednesday after Smith announced he would no longer negotiate with Espada or fellow members of the so-called Gang of Three.
"There is no way that I would cast my vote for Malcolm Smith, and there is no way I would have conversations with anyone other than the entire conference," he said.
Espada said his next move would be to invite other Democratic senators to convene without Smith, hoping to force Smith from the leadership. "He's not ready for prime time," Espada said, repeating an assertion he made earlier.
In light of Espada's strong rhetoric, unless Jim Gennaro is able to unseat State Senator Frank Padavan, Smith will have to reach across the aisle to round up the 32 votes needed to be majority leader.
Espada's frustration stems from the deal he and his gang struck with Smith last week. Espada says Smith went back on it when he told reporters that negotiations were ongoing. "We knew right then we had shaken hands with a liar and a scoundrel," Espada said.
Things worsened over coming days, as details about who would do what under the new senate leadership remained sketchy at best. The last straw came Wednesday morning, when Smith implied that a source of friction with the gang was an argument over a cash stipend. Espada said he was never after money, but rather reform.
And to get it, he said, he'll deal with anyone. Including Republican Majority Leader Dean Skelos and other Republican Senators, some of whom he served with briefly before losing a reelection bid in 2002. They've been talking, Espada said.
But he doesn't see a Senate based on party lines. "Two votes does not make a mandate, it makes for bipartisanship. It's a recipe for chaos unless you have a bipartisan conference," Espada said. "There's a host of issues here that I would call a wedge issue. There's always been regional differences and suburban-urban differences."
And who would best lead that conference?
"I look forward to making that determination when I sit with the senators."
I also asked Espada about his outstanding improprieties with the state Board of Elections. He said his attorney Stanley Schlein is meeting with officials to work that out, and downplayed the problem as a "clerical error."
"Some reports have been late, and I have been fined," he said. "It's as simple as a young campaign treasurer checking the wrong box on a form."
He promised: "There is no contribution or expenditure that is not on file with the Board of Elections."