Exit of Espada Opens New Doors

The Sept. 14 Democratic primaries brought good ews for tenants, with Gustavo Rivera unseating state Senator Pedro Espada by a surprisingly large margin, and Eric Schneiderman winning the nomination for state attorney general.

Rivera, a rent-stabilized tenant, defeated Espada, a corrupt real-estate crony, by almost 2-1 in the Bronx’s 33rd District. He is former chief of staff to state Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D/WFP-Yonkers). Schneiderman, a state senator from Washington Heights, outpolled four opponents.

The stakes for tenants in the Nov. 2 election are enormous. The 2011 session will address the expiration of the rent-stabilization and rent-control laws next June. It will also redraw congressional and legislative district lines for the next 10 years to reflect population changes in this year’s U.S. Census.

Rivera’s victory will turn the seat formerly held by Espada into a reliable tenant vote, but there are several other races that will determine the ultimate balance of power in the state Senate. The Democrats won a 32-30 margin in 2008, but the defection of Espada and several others prevented pro-tenant bills from passing.

Schneiderman’s old seat will also remain in pro-tenant hands. Adriano Espaillat, who won a spirited contest for the nomination, told the West Side Spirit that his priority in the Senate will be to pass pro-tenant legislation such as repealing vacancy decontrol. “The conditions are there for it to be taken seriously,” he said.

As a state senator, Schneiderman led the fight for progressive taxation and reforming the Rockefeller drug laws. He also worked for public financing of elections and redistricting that is not an incumbent-protection scheme. If the Democrats win all statewide offices, Schneiderman and state comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, who is likely to be re-elected, would provide a progressive balance to Andrew Cuomo as governor.

Schneiderman’s opponent is Staten Island District Attorney Dan Donovan, a Republican-Conservative who came up through former borough president Guy Molinari’s machine. When the Village Voice on Sept. 29 reported numerous shady and corrupt dealings in Molinari’s office while Donovan was chief of staff, Donovan responded by calling Schneiderman a “card-carrying member of the Albany cesspool.”

2010 is also a crucial year for the Working Families Party. The party, which has endorsed Andrew Cuomo, needs to win at least 50,000 votes for him on Row E in order to maintain a ballot line for the next four years.

After the WFP helped the Democrats gain nominal control of the state Senate in January 2009, putting repealing vacancy decontrol at the top of its housing agenda, the real-estate industry launched a multimillion-dollar offensive against the WFP, in partnership with the Independence Party and former Rudolph Giuliani pitbull Randy Mastro. After WFP-backed Debi Rose became Staten Island’s first African-American City Councilmember in the 2009 election, these forces supported complaints by the defeated candidates, leading to a federal probe into the party’s financial structure.

In June, Cuomo stated that he might not accept the WFP endorsement, citing the federal investigation. After the probe found the charges baseless, he agreed to take the party’s ballot line.

Cuomo served as secretary of housing and urban development in the Clinton administration, where he failed to impress those concerned with affordable housing. He popularized the notion that people are homeless because they are not “housing ready.”

In his present campaign, Cuomo accepts discredited Republican economic ideas that the economy can be improved without progressive taxation, and without a public sector that maintains employment levels and provides needed services. His 250-page platform devotes one paragraph to housing issues—less than it does to air-traffic-control infrastructure—and does not mention rent regulation.

The Republican candidate, Buffalo billionaire Carl Paladino, is an unstable right-winger who has amassed a fortune through questionable state contracts, and who has called for putting welfare recipients in underutilized prisons where they can learn “personal hygiene.” Paladino has acknowledged sending explicitly racist and sexist e-mails, and almost got into a fistfight with Fred Dicker, the New York Post’s Albany bureau chief.

However, due to Cuomo’s undistinguished record on housing, Met Council on Housing has not made an endorsement in this race.