News & Politics

Barrett: Did Paterson Really Call And Congratulate Espada On His Coup?

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In the madhouse of Albany these days, David Paterson, predictably, has been behaving unpredictably.

Press reports noted that he telephoned Senator Pedro Espada, the Democrat-turned-Republican who is leading the two-man rebellion. Espada’s spokesman told the Albany Times Union that Paterson, the Democratic governor who was until recently the Democratic leader of the senate, was “very supportive” and “excited” about Espada’s new coalition with the Republicans.

A Paterson spokeswoman confirmed that the call was made, but offered a different twist, saying that the governor “was excited” that Espada “plans to put on the floor some of the legislation that the governor has proposed,” an apparent reference to Espada’s ploy to make sure his coalition brings the gay marriage bill to a vote (although almost all of the new allies will vote against it).

I was a guest on “Destination Casa Blanca” yesterday, an hour-long political talk show on The Hispanic Information & Telecommunications Network (HITN-TV), and Espada called in.

He elaborated on the Paterson call, and also took my questions about whether he’d betrayed the voters who put him in office…

In response to a question from El Diario columnist Gerson
Borrero, Espada told a national Latino television audience much more
about his claimed conversation with the governor, which Paterson’s
press office insists is “false.”

“The governor directly told me I am calling you as president pro tem,”
Espada said in a ten-minute on-air conversation. Espada said the
governor was “acknowledging the court decision this morning,” a
reference to the refusal by an upstate judge to halt Espada’s
Republican majority from proceeding with state business, “and
specifically said he was calling me to share with me his decision that
we have to continue beyond June 22” — the date the legislative session
is supposed to end. “He went on to congratulate me,” Espada added, “and
thought that this was a transforming moment where we could bring a
signature legislative piece, same sex marriage, to the floor.”

Paterson took swipes at the senate Democrats in a WNYC interview as
well, ridiculing their legal argument that Malcolm Smith, who succeeded
Paterson as Democratic leader, was elected to a two-year term as
majority leader and could not be dumped mid-term by a coup.
As
vigorously and vaguely as Paterson’s office is denying Espada’s version
of the conversation (even as it argues Espada should not be talking
about a private chat), the mere fact that the governor called Espada
suggests that he was acknowledging the senator’s new and disputed
leadership role. Paterson says he called Smith and Republican leader
Dean Skelos too, suggesting there was nothing special about the call to
Espada. But Smith and Skelos are the leaders of the two party
conferences. Espada is just one of 62 senators, except if his selection
as president pro tem of the senate on Monday makes him more.

Paterson’s inclusion of Espada on a call list of three implicitly
recognizes that controversial election. Of course, the senator says it
was more than implicit and that the governor explicitly congratulated
him on becoming senate president during the conversation. (The title of
senate president is largely ministerial and usually held by the
majority leader. Espada’s Coalition separated the two titles into two
different positions.)

On the HITN-TV show, I pressed Espada about whether his walk across
the aisle was a breach of his “contract” with the voters and
constituents of his district, who last year nominated him in a
contested Democratic primary when he ran as a Democrat and frequently
attached himself to Barack Obama. He railed on about how Democratic
leaders spent hundreds of thousands trying to defeat him, saying he
owed the party nothing.