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Among those they met with was Espada. "I didn't know what he did," said Eisland. As for the $2 million, she said she had no idea what the group would do with the money. "It is certainly not something we prepared for," she said.
Actually, Espada's initial intention was to give the chamber its original $50,000 request, but he upped the ante after his own newly created groups were shot down. The senator's move to give all the dough to the chamber unnerved Senate staffers. In an e-mail sent in May, a finance aide on the central Senate staff worried that the grants could become a problem.
"I find it strange that Senator Espada is reallocating all of the money, $1,923,100, to one organization, the New Bronx Chamber of Commerce, and that he's already funding them for $50,000," wrote the staffer. "That's a total of $1,973,100 to one organization. I know from his staff that he had groups that put in requests and aren't being funded by him. I sincerely hope this doesn't come back to bite us."
Espada wouldn't have had to look far to find other needy groups. According to a report released in March by the office of the Bronx Borough President, there are nearly 2,500 local nonprofits, providing everything from housing aid to food assistance. About 60 percent of them say they will operate at a deficit this year.
Freddy Ferrer, who served as Bronx borough president from 1987 to 2001, said Espada's recent antics didn't surprise him. "He always struck me as a Ramon Velez wannabe," said Ferrer. In fact, Espada singled out Velez, the late Bronx anti-poverty kingpin regularly cited for corruption, as a role model in the New York magazine article. "That's his thing," said Ferrer. "He has so distinguished himself with his lack of character, it's really stunning. I'm betting he'll flip back again. He says this is about empowerment? Come on."