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New year, new Bronx politics

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East Bronx pols poised for promotion

New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo guns for governor. Senator Jeff Klein runs for attorney general. Assemblyman Michael Benedetto pursues Klein’s seat. An assembly spot is up for grabs.

Not a probable scenario. But possible. Nudge one domino and a phalanx could fall.

Klein, mentioned as a potential heir to Cuomo’s throne, is no candidate yet. But the lawyer, former Assemblyman and two-term senator has considered a campaign, he told the Bronx Times Reporter.

In Albany, Klein has investigated the sub-prime mortgage crisis and elder abuse, sexual predators and dirty supermarkets. Frustrated by the Espada-Monserrate coup of June 2009, he nearly became senate president but in the end remained deputy majority leader.

“The idea of being the top attorney and top law enforcement officer in the state is very appealing,” Klein admitted. “I’m flattered that my name has been bandied about. I believe I’m qualified. I have a strong legal background.”

But the senator, up for reelection in November, covered his bases.

“Most likely, I’ll stay where I am,” Klein said. “I like what I do. I enjoy being a senator. I love representing the 34th District. I have a lot of work ahead of me.”

Klein has also been mentioned as a potential member of Cuomo’s cabinet, if Cuomo were to defeat Paterson. If Klein does bolt the Bronx, contenders for attorney general could include Senator Eric Schneiderman of Manhattan, former New York State Insurance Superintendent Eric Dinallo, Assemblyman Richard Brodsky of Yonkers and ousted Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi.

Klein, a formidable fundraiser who contributed cash to fellow Democrats and helped his party win back the senate, would do well to analyze Suozzi’s reelection loss to upstart Republican Edward Mangano in December, Benedetto said. The Bronx assemblyman and former public school teacher called the Nassau result “a warning.”

Benedetto also expects Klein to assess his position in Albany.

“Jeff is an important person up there,” the assemblyman said. “He may want to remain a senator.”

Not that Benedetto would blink if Klein graduated to attorney general.

“It doesn’t surprise me that Jeff would have aspirations for higher office,” Benedetto said of Klein. “He’s a smart, talented guy.”

Benedetto is ready. He formed a senate campaign committee in November and has raised close to $100,000, he said.

“As long as there’s a possibility that Jeff will run, I have to seriously look at his seat,” Benedetto said. “I’ve come to the conclusion that if there’s a void, I want to step in.”

Bronx Democratic boss Carl Heastie has blessed Benedetto’s plan, the assemblyman said. Klein and Benedetto get along.

“I think Mike is a hard-working elected official,” Klein said. “He’s an expert in education. But there’s a lot of talent in my district.”

As for Benedetto’s seat, if he were to jet, insiders have mentioned Frank Randazzo of the Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation, son of Benedetto chief of staff Ben Randazzo, as a potential candidate. Benedetto himself dropped no names.

Klein flirted with an attorney general campaign in 2006, when he raised $2.6 million, but yielded to Cuomo.

East Bronx pols respond to State of the State speech

On Wednesday, January 6, Governor David Paterson delivered his second State of the State address, less than a month after the embattled leader answered questions at a town hall meeting in the Bronx.

Paterson upbraided the senate and assembly for indecision and excess. “The days of running New York like a payday loan operation must come to an end,” he observed. Some legislators were unhappy. “The people want statesmen to fix our problems, not politicians who ascribe blame without offering a solution,” Senator majority leader John Sampson responded.

East Bronx pols Senator Jeff Klein and Assemblyman Michael Benedetto had mixed words for the governor.

“I thought [Paterson] made good points but was very vague on important issues, such as property tax relief and job creation,” Klein said.

The senator praised Paterson’s proposal for an independent ethics commission to police Albany. Benedetto had expected the governor to begin “his re-election campaign on the backs” of legislators.

“He did touch on ethics reform…and the budget,” Benedetto said. “But he didn’t hammer it in. He was mild in his criticism. I think that was appreciated. He also made some excellent points.”

In 2010, the assemblyman hopes to help Albany balance its budget and pass legislation that will create jobs, he said. Klein heralded the senate’s appointment of two Republicans to committee chairmanships as a rare “show of bipartisanship.”

Hours before Paterson took the podium, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, who launched an investigation of Bronx Senator Pedro Espada in August, subpoenaed Espada phone and email records. A deal between Espada, Queens Senator Hiram Monserrate and senate Republicans deadlocked Albany in June.

“[Espada] has been investigated in the past and has come away okay,” Benedetto said.

Klein was more blunt.

“I didn’t elect Pedro or Hiram,” he said. “Unfortunately, in government and in life these things happen. We need to remain focused on why we’re in Albany: to work hard. [With regard to Espada], the voters will decide.”

Bronx pols to snag plum City Council committees

Eight for eight! The City Council has yet to announce who will chair its 43 committees and subcommittees but it appears that eight Bronx pols will fill eight slots. Councilman Jimmy Vacca is set to take Transportation. Councilwoman Annabel Palma is poised to grab State and Federal Legislation. Councilwoman Helen Diane Foster could head General Welfare and new Councilman Fernando Cabrera could chair Mental Health.

Councilman Larry Seabrook will likely remain chair of the Civil Rights committee, while Councilman Oliver Koppell could net Aging or Rules. Word is that Councilwoman Maria del Carmen Arroyo wants the Health committee. Councilman Joel Rivera will probably remain majority leader.

Vacca has railed against the Metropolitan Transit Authority and its plan to eliminate buses in the Bronx. Bronx Assemblyman Michael Benedetto attributed the favorable committee fall-out to the efforts of Bronx Democratic Party boss Carl Heastie.

“I think Carl did an outstanding job,” he said.

Rather than settle a single Bronx pol – Vacca – at the head of the powerful Finance committee, Heastie won the borough several of solid committee spots instead, Benedetto said.

Has Espada aide had enough?

Sources murmur that John Feliciano, aide to political pugilist State Senator Pedro Espada and former board chair at Soundview Health Care Network, Espada’s home base, has grown weary of his boss’ wild ways. Word is Feliciano could resign.

Attorney General Andrew Cuomo has launched an investigation of Espada and grants to the health clinic; Cuomo subpoenaed phone and email records on Wednesday, January 6. In August, when the attorney general probed the hire of Espada’s son as a senate aide, Pedro G. Espada resigned.

Espada the elder lead the June coup that plunged the senate into turmoil. He spent one month as a de-facto Republican but returned to the Democratic fold as majority leader. Meanwhile, Espada took flak from tenants groups for his ambiguous position on vacancy decontrol, failed to open a district office and was blasted for nights spent in suburban Mamaroneck, miles from his Bedford Park co-op apartment.

A real headache for any aide. Enough to make Feliciano turn tail? We’ll see.

Reach reporter Daniel Beekman at 718 742-3383 or dbeekman@cnglocal.com

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