According to what my own eyes and archival searches tell me, the name of Pedro Espada Jr. has yet to appear in Chicago’s dailies.
How parochial the local press has become! Do they fear that if we read about the political scandals in other states Chicagoans will lose confidence in our own? Do they fear that their editorial crusade to correct Illinois’ dysfunctional democracy — a crusade that the Tribune in particular is riding for all it’s worth to justify its continued existence — would lose all its force if readers discovered that our world-class corruption is actually nothing special. That New Yorkers (damn their eyes) can do it even better.
No, better to file daily reports on the martyrdom of Patti Blagojevich in Costa Rica (she’s spunky, she’s doing Chicago proud, and if she wins I’m a Celebrity . . . Get Me Out of Here it’ll be a victory for midwestern values we should all be proud of), and pretend that Rod Blagojevich’s 15 minutes aren’t over. But they are. The next 15 belong to Pedro Espada.
Here’s the story we’re not reading. Last November the state of New York elected its first Democratic state senate in more than 40 years. Inevitably, the shift brought talk of reform. What happened instead was a conspiracy between the senate’s Republicans and two rogue Democrats, Pedro Espada and Hiram Monserrate, who just announced they’re going to caucus with (but not join) the Republicans. According to the New York Times, the instigator of this coup was a local billionaire, Tom Golisano, who was all for reform except that it looked like he’d wind up paying more taxes.
The upshot is that on Monday the Republicans moved to regain control of the senate, a move Democrats tried to thwart by fleeing the senate chamber, turning off the lights, and locking the door. Governor David Paterson called Albany, the state capital, a “dysfunctional wreck” (language Illinoisans like to believe is reserved for Springfield).
Who is Pedro Espada? Times columnist Jim Dwyer described him this way: “He owes the city [New York] $61,750 in fines for fraudulent campaign fund-raising going back to 2001. He has failed to file 41 reports with the State Board of Elections, and has racked up $13,553 in penalties since 2002. He does not have an office in the district he was elected to represent in the Bronx. In fact, it looks as if he doesn’t even live there.”
Now he’s a heartbeat away from running the state of New York. That’s because the Republicans, to beguile Espada, named him president pro tem of the senate — a position that would make him acting governor if anything happened to Paterson. Normally, the lieutenant governor becomes acting governor, but there’s been no lieutenant governor in New York since Paterson succeeded Eliot Spitzer, who resigned because of a sex scandal. Paterson has sworn not to leave the state any time soon.
Who is Hiram Monserrate? The Times points out that earlier this year Republicans were calling for his resignation — because he’d just been indicted on a charge of stabbing his girlfriend with a broken glass. The Times adds that he retired from the New York City police force “with a psychological disability.”
On Thursday Monserrate was wavering, the Democrats were in court, and the New York Post was focusing its coverage on a clown it had hired to cavort in the state capitol.
Imagine waking up tomorrow morning to discover the Republicans were running the Illinois senate once again, except that no one could get into the chamber so they had to meet out on the lawn. When political reform gets preached in Illinois, the message is that other places have mastered democracy with dignity, so why not here? The problem with that is that democracy is constantly disgracing itself. It’s in the interests of the pols who actually run things that we know this — so that we’ll keep reelecting them because we think they can deal with the clowns. But is it a secret the reform-minded press should try to keep?
Anyway, it’s great reading and it can’t be done.