Pedro Espada's Primary Challenge

Dressed for excess, the rascal pol even stiffed his tailor

"It is easy to get people to talk about how horrible a guy he has been as a senator," said Rivera a few minutes later as he sipped a Coke in a diner across the street. "But this is a distraction. This district has been ill-served for a long time. The harder part is convincing people that they can be represented by someone they can have access to, and who will genuinely serve their interests."

Before he got into the race, Rivera was a part-time college professor who doubled as a Democratic political aide. He put his efforts to get a doctorate in political science aside to work for Barack Obama's campaign. For the past 10 years, he has lived in a studio apartment just up the street from where he was campaigning. "I know I wouldn't be able to live in New York without rent regulations," he said. "It is another thing that separates me from my opponent, who lives in the suburbs."

Indeed it does. In the Senate, Espada has grown so close to his landlord donors that it is hard to see where one begins and the other leaves off. In April, the Voice reported how Espada's Senate spokesman, Mangione, moonlights for the largest landlord group, the Rent Stabilization Association, creating their radio ads. The latest lobbying filings show that Mangione's fees for this work have now grown to more than $270,000. This would normally be considered an outrageous conflict of interest. In Espada Land, it is par for the course.

Earlier this month, on the last day of the Senate session, tenant groups rallied in a legislative hallway in a last-minute plea to win protections the new Democratic majority had promised to deliver before Espada and his allies thwarted that mission. Espada was late arriving at the Capitol, and when he appeared, the protesters greeted him with jeers. The senator stomped away. Then he suddenly wheeled around, thrusting dollar bills at his hecklers, screaming at them to go home. A photo captured his face in a frenzied snarl. A closer look revealed something else as well: He was wearing a very nice suit.

trobbins@villagevoice.com

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