Pedro Espada's Enablers

The people who brought you Albany's greatest scoundrel

Such are the advisers who have the senator's ear. Together, they have helped the real estate lobby run the table. Tenant groups are out in the cold, despite having provided many of the troops that helped Democrats win their majority. Their hoped-for reward was that bills that had languished under Republican rule would gain new life. Instead, they have been strangled in their cribs in Espada's housing committee. Measures to curb the rent deregulation that landlords won during the Pataki years have been snuffed out. Ditto a plan that would—get this—let New York City decide its own rent rules.

Even Espada's "affordable housing" proposal, as Spinola dubs it, is a landlord-rescue scheme. The script was devised in a panic after landlords were hit with the devastating appellate court ruling in the Stuyvesant Town rent overcharge case. Owners, judges ruled, had illegally collected tax breaks while charging market rates. The ruling means that landlords may have to do the unthinkable: Roll back rents on high-end apartments.

As a fallback plan, landlords suggested that upper-end rents remain as they are, in exchange for freezing charges for lower-income residents. All that need happen is that the city forgo billions in taxes.

Espada, aware that Cuomo's investigation would soon surface, saw an excellent photo opportunity. He held "Freeze the Rent" rallies and papered them with his clinic employees. It was just for show. The proposal was already dead on arrival. When landlords pitched the plan to Vito Lopez, the powerful chairman of the Assembly housing committee, they struck out. "It's not something I find acceptable," Lopez said last week. "The numbers don't match up. They're not real."

Just before Espada's scandals exploded last week, veteran tenant advocate Michael McKee learned about the cancellation of the housing committee meeting. That's the last straw, McKee wrote to Senate leader John Sampson. If Democrats want tenant support in the fall elections, McKee said, they must remove Espada from his housing post. It is one thing to tolerate a rogue senator's own rapacious greed. It's quite another to let him use his official clout to feed the greed of others far more powerful than himself.

trobbins@villagevoice.com

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