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Monserrate (left) and Espada (AP/Photo by Mike Groll)

Blue, red, purple?

Politics | Instead of Democrats or Republicans, chaos and disorder reign over the New York State Senate

While Christian conservatives first heralded the Republican takeover of the New York State Senate as the death of same-sex marriage legislation, the situation has now erupted into chaos and disorder.

A week ago, two Democratic senators-Pedro Espada Jr. and Hiram Monserrate-upset their party's narrow 32-30 majority by joining with Republicans and electing Espada as Senate president and Republican Dean G. Skelos as Senate majority leader. According to the New York Daily News today, Monserrate has decided to return to the Democratic fold, leaving the Senate split 31-31. A judge will rule on the legality of the coup later today.

Espada is dogged by ethical complaints and is now promising to bring same-sex marriage legislation to a vote, using it as a bargaining chip to get more Democrats to join his coalition. Skelos is numbered among the bill's detractors. As of this writing, Skelos' office has not returned a call for comment on Espada's tactics.

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Many of Espada's ethical questions involve shady dealings between his non-profit organization and his political campaign. The New York City Campaign Finance Board fined him $10,000 for unreported in-kind contributions from Soundview Healthcare Network, according to an audit, which also noted that his campaign did not report expenditures for the use of Soundview employees and Soundview equipment. Espada sued to overturn over $60,000 in penalties but lost. He has promised to pay up by August, said Eric Friedman, press secretary for the New York City Campaign Finance Board.

The New York State Board of Elections also has complaints. According to John Conklin, director of public information, Espada owes the board 41 reports going back to 1992 and it has taken 27 judgments against him. The board has fined him $13,000, but despite several meetings between the board and Espada's legal representation, Espada has still failed to bring in the missing records.

In 2005, three of the Soundview employees pled guilty to charges that they diverted $30,000 from clinic programs to Espada's campaign. Espada was not charged, but the state attorney general's office has been investigating the relationship between Soundview and Espada's political campaigns.

On Monserrate's part, he faces felony charges for allegedly cutting his girlfriend's face with a piece of glass in December. If convicted, he would lose his seat.

Should conservatives form alliances with ethically shady politicians? Mario Lopez, president of the Hispanic Leadership Fund-a conservative advocacy group-said of Espada, "There are definitely legitimate questions there. But the bottom-line at this point is that they're not necessarily rolling out the red carpet for him." They are merely caucusing together, and Lopez said their stated purpose is to bring reforms-like those Democrats promised but failed to achieve. The Senate did pass some reforms of Senate government at the beginning.

Miguel Rivera, chairman of the board of directors for the National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Christian Leaders-a group that organized a rally against same-sex marriage in May-disagrees that Republicans should ally themselves with Espada to gain power and goes so far as to say they should refuse his support. Rivera sees Espada's constant switching of allegiances as a lack of integrity, since Espada sat with the Republicans before but never changed his registration. According to The New York Times, Espada said he allied himself with the Republicans because they could provide more money for his programs. He also considered joining with the Republicans in December.

Rivera said, "He has no political persuasion except Espada's persuasion." He added that Republicans should refuse Espada's allegiance and try to regain power through elections instead.

Lopez said, "Certainly in politics it does raise some legitimate concerns when you have someone flipping back and forth a lot." But he guesses that Espada won't be welcome with the Democrats much longer.

Bill Devlin, a Manhattan pastor and president of Redeem the Vote, said that Christians should be able to work with elected officials who are under indictment or have ethical issues. He points to biblical examples of leaders like Daniel and Joseph who worked in politics, saying that Christians should do the same to accomplish common good for "the poor, the unborn, the disenfranchised."

New York's mix of red and blue can complicate political allegiances. New York City is liberal, but upstate New York and other areas are conservative, which is why the Democrats have lacked a majority in the State Senate for 40 years now and could only hold it for five months. It can blur the lines between Democrat and Republican, but Rivera said politicians should be clear about where they stand: "We don't know who exactly is blue, who exactly is red. It's very sad. It's a moment of shame for the constituents of the state of New York."

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