Espada falls, NYRA gasps, state rolls on

Oh, this state government of ours — doesn’t it just make you want to hang your head?

Oh, this state government of ours — doesn’t it just make you want to hang your head?

I’m talking not just about the flap over the running of the racetracks and whether NYRA is entitled to the loot from Aqueduct slot machines. I’m talking about our ever-loving Legislature too.

Think of it — former Sen. Pedro Espada Jr., just convicted of four counts of theft for milking a Bronx health-care organization that he founded and led, an organization that was basically a vehicle for receiving government grants and medical payments. He took it for $448,000, a jury found, not counting the $235,000 annual salary he paid himself.

Espada wasn’t just any old senator. He was for a brief inglorious moment the majority leader, if you remember that tumultuous time back in 2008, 2009 and 2010 when he was selling his political allegiance.

He was a Democrat when the Democrats won control of the Senate, but then defected to the Republicans, leaving the house evenly split and paralyzed, and then defected back to the Democrats in exchange for being named majority leader, a position that he held until he was finally indicted. For a while there, everyone wanted him. He was the most courted man at the Capitol.

Of course he wasn’t alone. There was a group of them, the Four Amigos, as they called themselves.

One amigo, Sen. Hiram Monserrate, was kicked out of the Senate after being convicted of misdemeanor assault for dragging his girlfriend through an apartment building lobby and more recently pleaded guilty to using public money for a political campaign.

Another, Sen. Carl Kruger, just caught a seven-year sentence for corruption of his own.

Only one, Sen. Ruben Diaz, remains untouched.

But isn’t that a fine record for legislative leaders?

Espada seemed especially shameless, even allotting himself, as chief executive of his health-care organization, $200 a day in pocket money, with no accounting required. Just “walking-around money,” as they call it.

Now we wait to see if federal prosecutors will retry him on the four charges on which a jury could not reach a verdict, and also if they will retry his son, about whom the same jury likewise could not make up its collective mind.

As for the New York Racing Association, we’ll see who can stare down whom.

Gov. Cuomo seems to be in command right now, holding back $4 million a month in slot-machine loot as a result of what he says was illegal action by NYRA in appointing two new executives to replace those recently fired, but where does he go from here?

Does he attempt to undo NYRA’s 25-year franchise to operate the Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga racetracks?

That would no doubt lead to a long legal fight, but he’s in a much stronger position than Gov. Spitzer was in five years ago, when NYRA still had a strong claim to ownership of the tracks. It gave up that claim as part of a deal to get the new franchise, so now it’s just a tenant, presumably subject to eviction if it can be found to have violated the terms of the franchise.

One possibility not to be ignored: the state absorbs horse racing into the Lottery Division and runs the tracks itself. One great big Division of Gambling, or “gaming,” as they would no doubt call it.

At least then there would be regular audits, and records would be subject to the Freedom of Information Law, which would be interesting.

Categories: Opinion

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