A special delivery arrived on state Senate Majority Leader Pedro Espada’s Mamaroneck doorstep this Saturday, compliments of a pair of activists in bright orange prison jumpers flanked by angry Democrats dressed in “Don’t Vote for Pedro” shirts. They brought sushi.
It seemed the perfect gift for the embattled Bronx senator, who we now know has a penchant for the stuff, to mark the anniversary of the June 8 coup, when he and now-convicted former State Senator Hiram Monserrate paralyzed business in Albany for weeks in an act of parliamentary mutiny.
“[He is] the poster child for the capitol’s corruption,” said Emmy Suzuki Harris, vice president of the Manhattan Young Democrats, who organized the protest.
Since the six-week logjam in Albany last year, the protesters say that Espada has further blemished the party: He’s racked up $60,000 in campaign finance fines and in April was charged with looting $14 million from the Soundview HealthCare Network by gubernatorial candidate Attorney General Andrew Cuomo.
“We are Democrats, but we do not believe that just because someone has a ‘D’ next to their name they deserve our unwavering support!” yelled Harris, her voice booming down the quiet Beechwood Drive where Espada resides in a picturesque two-story dwelling that stands in contrast to the brick apartment buildings dotting his 33rd District. (Though Espada claims he lives in a Bronx cooperative, which Cuomo’s suit says is paid for with a stipend from his Soundview HealthCare Network, the 20 grand in Japanese takeout also outlined in that suit was delivered to his Mamaroneck address.)
So along with $4.95 pre-made California rolls purchased from a Manhattan Duane Reade, the group packed voter registration cards into their wicker delivery basket, just in case Espada wanted to reflect his real residence. “We also have a red mesh jersey because he played for the Republicans,” said Al Benninghoff, a Manhattan Young Democrats president emeritus.
Other goodies included the group’s riff on the Napoleon Dynamite campaign tee, a number of sushi takeout menus, a first aid kit (because Albany needs fixing), and a framed picture of Espada and Monserrate at a Yankee game. They fringed $2 million in play money, representing the amount of member-item cash that spurred the defection, around the basket.
However, the turncoat Dem was not home, leaving only a number of imposing men to guard his well-manicured property (decorated with “No trespassing” signs staked into the grass around its perimeter).
While Democrats from his district plunked the basket down at the feet of the burly Espada henchmen, the other protesters clogged the dead-end street chanting or penning messages to the embattled senator inside an oversized greeting card, which read, “Hey, if you wanted a smaller card you should have done something less impressive.”
The protesters then walked to Columbus Park, where they dug chopsticks into platters of sushi, vats of wasabi, and containers of ginger. Bill Samuels, the founder of the New Roosevelt Initiative, finished a small plate before announcing that he would abandon his campaign for lieutenant governor, and instead focus on supporting more insurgent, progressive candidates who would reform the scarred state legislature.
Samuels plans to infuse $250,000 into an Espada opponent’s war chest. “We’re not just giving money,” he said. “We’re going to put hundreds of people in the field, like are here today, knocking on doors to elect either [Desiree] Pilgrim-Hunter or Gustavo Rivera, two good candidates that have announced.”
Samuels hopes that the two he sees as the strongest opponents would cast aside personal ambitions to make an Espada defeat viable. “Victory for reform is more important than an individual being elected,” he said.
Around him, protesters sat cross-legged in the grass and devoured heaping plates of sushi.
“It tastes better because the taxpayers did not have to pay for it,” said Margaret Segall, a member of Citizen Action of New York. After recounting rallying at the capitol on June 9, a day after Espada and Monserrate crippled state business, she said the Bronx Democrat did nothing but demoralize the party. “It’s business even worse than usual,” she said, “which for Albany is really saying something.”
Carmen Pineiro, who lives in the 33rd District, chastised the senator for not supporting affordable housing and rent stabilization protections. Many at the protest labeled him “pro-landlord.” The day he hopped the aisle with Monserrate, he also held up an important pro-tenant bill, which many Democrats hoped would pass with their slim majority.
Pineiro took a piece of sushi and dragged it through a puddle of soy sauce as she stood in the well-maintained park. The surroundings were much different than the urban sprawl of the Bronx. Espada’s large home, where plants and statues of little cherubic girls and animals decorated the lawn, was offensive, she said; no wonder he didn’t understand the plight of his low- and middle-income constituency.
“Come to my block. See if it’s this beautiful,” she said.
Photos and video by Candice M. Giove.