Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Smiling Dynamo recounts rookie year

By Brendan McHugh

Espaillat stands with his rent reg countdown clock
U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer proclaimed him the Smiling Dynamo During the state Senate inauguration, but Rookie of the Year may have worked just as well for Adriano Espaillat.

Although he may be too modest to admit it (though not too modest to bring it up), he doesn’t think of himself as the rookie of the year in the state Senate, but Espaillat still has a lot to gloat about after the 2011 session.
“Overall I think it was a productive session,” Espaillat said during a roundtable discussion with reporters.

Espaillat, who represents northern Manhattan, the Upper West Side and south Riverdale (one of the more awkward districts in the state in my opinion. There’s the black vote, the Latino vote, and the Jewish vote), he fought tooth and nail for stronger rent laws, marriage equality, and immigration protection in his first state senate term. The top ranking Democrat on the housing committee, he was a member of the Assembly for 14 years prior to the state Senate.
Up against a Republican majority in the Senate, Espaillat and his fellow Democrats had to fight for the passage of many of their bills. Jump below for a synopsis of his year

Protecting immigrants from fraud, Espaillat authored the Notary Public Advertising Act, which cracks down on unscrupulous public notaries who prey on vulnerable immigrants. Notaries who are not attorneys are now required to display a prominent statement clarifying that they are not authorized to practice law and have no authority to give advice on legal matters. In the Spanish-speaking community, “Notario Publico” commonly refers to someone who is an attorney, which is why public notaries have the ability to trick immigrants.

The “Nutcracker Bill,” sponsored by Espaillat, will severely stiffen penalties for people illegally serving alcoholic drinks to minors. It’s called the Nutcracker Bill because the drinks usually have some sort of juice or sweetener in them (think caffeine-free Four Loko). Typically, they’ve been sold in northern Manhattan barbershops, but there have been cases of it going on in the Bronx as well. The law allowed for barbershops to keep their barber’s license—something that Espaillat’s bill closed.

Espaillat’s biggest challenge all year was the fight to strengthen rent regulations. After he and fellow Dems refused to vote for continuing the current rent laws while a new deal was reached, the rent protection laws actually expired for a few days. After some quick negotiation, the rent laws were somewhat strengthened, but not as much as Espaillat would have liked.

He did say, however, that there were some housing related issues that Gov. Andrew Cuomo will try to address through his executive powers. The Tenant Protection Unit of the Division of Housing and Community Renewal has apparently been vastly reduced in manpower over the years, and Cuomo and Espaillat are going to see if they can find a way to restore their power. DCHR keeps tabs on landlords to make sure they are not unjustifiably raising rent after Major Capital Improvements (MCI). Espaillat said he’s had a number of meetings with Cuomo over the past year, and when the governor promises he will try to accomplish something, he follows though.

Which leads to marriage equality. A handful of Spanish-speaking reporters took over the conversation with Espaillat about this, so I’m not entirely sure what the back and forth was. However, my seven years of high school Spanish and one year of college level Spanish got me this: The reporters asked Espaillat about his Catholic background and the influence on his vote (which was a yes for equality). Espaillat told them that he was following his Catholic background because being a good Catholic means not discriminating against people based on their personality, race, gender, etc.

Quick disclaimer: Espaillat also translated it after they were done, but I’d still like it known that I can understand bits and pieces of Spanish. You’d be surprised what I’ve had said about me right in front of my face by people I respected.

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