A Bronx tale: I first did business with Pedro Espada in August 1989. I was an editorial writer at New York Newsday and Espada was a health care impresario and candidate in the upcoming primary for a City Council seat. He had a complaint.
The Bronx Democratic machine, wracked by a spectacular run of rolling scandal, was trying to knock him off the ballot, he said. I’m sure it was, because that’s what the Bronx Democratic machine did to unanointed contenders. Anyway, we liked Espada.
He was a Fordham University graduate in his 30s who had founded a clinic in maybe the poorest neighborhood in America. His undistinguished opponent was profoundly unlikely ever to help the South Bronx solve its prodigious problems. So the newspaper’s editorials supported Espada, and he kept us informed -- with about 60 faxes a day -- detailing his various legal adventures with the borough's gimlet-eyed Democratic gatekeepers. He didn’t win that race, but he won others, and we always knew he had potential.
We just didn’t know what kind.
On Friday, he pleaded guilty to tax fraud. A jury convicted Espada earlier this year on separate charges in a major federal case that accused him of looting the taxpayer-subsidized Soundview health clinics that he founded for the poor. He faces up to seven years in prison when sentenced in February.
In a story as old as Robert Penn Warren's “All the King’s Men,” he morphed -- before our eyes -- from a promising young reformer into an accomplished crook.
This is a tragedy for Soundview’s legions of patients and for Espada's loyal constituents. But for the citizens of the state of New York, where he served for years as a state senator, it’s something else. The words embarrassment and outrage come to mind.
Pictured above: Former State Senate power broker Pedro Espada Jr. spoke with news outlets after leaving Brooklyn Federal Court. (September 21, 2012)