Is Pedro Espada Buying Votes With Jobs?

The re-election campaign of Pedro Espada Jr. -- the New York state senator who made Albany go haywire when he betrayed the Democrats to go Republican only to betray Republicans to be lured back as an exponentially more powerful Democrat -- was just profiled by Nick Rizzo for Capital New York. In it, there's a pretty unbelievable anecdote about one of Espada's canvassing teams that makes the entire thing worthwhile. Ask yourself if this sounds legal, or at the very least, even remotely ethical:

[Espada canvassing team leader Chryss Coronel] got into buildings by buzzing the top-floor apartments and asking for the names on her walk sheet. Most of the time, someone would let her in before she'd exhausted all the buzzers. She'd then head to the apartment that buzzed her in, knock on the door, and after identifying the person she was talking to, would say in either English or Spanish, "Hi, there's an election coming up on September 14. We hope you'll vote for Senator Pedro Espada, and we're hiring people for work who are 18 or older. For Election Day. Call this number."

That seems like a bit of a dirty quid pro quo, no? Rizzo goes on to ask Espada's campaign spokesperson -- who already disagreed in his assertion that this looks like a way to buy votes -- why Espada's election day jobs were only for those over 18. The answer?

"I have no idea." After some thought, he suggested that it might be to avoid legal liability in case something happened to employees who were minors. I pointed out that the campaign would still be liable for adult employees harmed on the job, and that the campaign already sends out teenage volunteers to perform these same tasks. He told me he didn't make the rules.

He also noted that Espada's campaign filings list no "regular employees" and that when pressed further about this, Espada's campaign finance manager didn't get back to him. Espada's already embroiled in various stripes of legal trouble, and it's looking like there may be more where that came from. He's seemed to be able to knock all of this off of his back in the press, but that this kind of thing may very well be reaching the point of public perception in his voting district. Example?

"Espada? Hell no," said an older black woman. "Not that asshole." A young man told her, "I'm not voting for that rat.

There are more great anecdotes where that came from, especially about Espada's challenger, Gustavo Rivera, being a quote-level fan of The Wire and knowing when not to canvass for votes (when True Blood is on), but the very best comes near the last, when Rizzo witnesses Espada canvassers freak out and quit on the job. If they're doing this in front of reporters, it's worth asking if the entire campaign has melted down like this, too. In a little over 24 hours, as New Yorkers vote in their primary elections, we're certainly going to find out.

[fkamer@villagevoice.com]


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