By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
Elizabeth Yeampierre, executive director of UPROSE, which deals with social justice issues, says the group has always had an adversarial relationship with Rodriguez. While her group fought the imposition of a new power plant in Sunset Park in 2000, Rodriguez was the only politician who did not publicly testify against it. Yet when he ran for reelection in 2001, Rodriguez told Gotham Gazette, an election Web site: "I vigorously opposed the power plant, but they [the New York State Power Authority] basically got around the regulations."
Back in 1996, when Rodriguez first ran for district leader in Sunset Park, his hardscrabble life seemed tailor-made for politics. He grew up in Williamsburg, went to public schools, and was raised by a mother who relied on welfare to get by when she wasn't working in the garment industry. After high school he went to the College of Staten Island, got a degree in accounting, and opened a CPA business in Williamsburg.
After being elected district leader, Rodriguez ran for the 38th District council seat the following year, backed by Assemblyman Felix Ortiz. In the campaign's last week, flyers appeared which made crude references to the candidates' ethnicities. The flyers took specific aim at Rodriguez, and there was speculation that they were put out by Rodriguez supporters to win sympathy votes from Sunset Park Puerto Ricans.
"Basically, what they served to do was point out who in the campaign was of Puerto Rican descent" and who wasn't, recalls Lew Fidler, the district leader and city councilman from Marine Park. "It was the political equivalent of gay baiting."
Palacios says the councilman had nothing to do with the racist literature.
In light of the indictment against Rodriguez, City Council colleagues are rethinking past conversations with Rodriguez, and what import they may have. After Rodriguez failed in his bid for City Council Speaker in January, he tried for leadership of the Brooklyn delegation. At the time, says Fidler, the Fairway project had not yet been voted on by the City Council. "Angel told me, I still have things to do," says Fidler. "Now you look back and think, gee, I wonder what he meant."