Monday, January 18, 2010

Picking on Pedro

The NY Post is at it again-singling out Senator Pedro Espada for ridicule and leaving out any of the context that would, if understood, make mockery of the paper's invidious campaign of slander: " As for “controlling government spending” — let’s just say he’s trying to control as much of it as he can. Soundview, a nonprofit, relies heavily on Medicaid dollars — yet Espada appears to run it as a personal and political piggy bank.He took home a $460,000 salary in 2007, while Soundview pays his for-profit custodial outfit nearly $400,000 a year, far more than the job should cost. That’s money, Cuomo believes, that flows directly into Espada’s campaign accounts — and pockets."

Now for the missing context-and also missing is the fact that neither the Post's Rupert Murdoch, whose paper delights in making sport of Bronx pols, nor the attorney general-have ever done a damn thing to bring health care to the underserved South Bronx; something that Espada's Soundview HealthCare Network has done for over thirty years.

The NY Times captured this last year in an article that AG Cuomo's folks would do well to read carefully: "But on White Plains Road in the Castle Hill section of the Bronx, State Senator Pedro Espada Jr. is a central figure, to some a populist crusader, in a health care system that every year provides care to 25,000 poor people who have long been ignored by the medical establishment."

25,000 people a year! Clearly, Soundview isn't just another one of those phony neighborhood groups established by politicians looking for their own piggy bank-like the one set up by Ephraim Gonzales, the man whose seat Espada one in a hotly contested primary.

As the Times points out: "Mr. Espada may not be able to match Huey Long’s roads, bridges and hospitals in Depression-era Louisiana. But his Christmas toy drives, Thanksgiving dinners, baby showers and Mother’s and Father’s Day health fairs are famous in the Bronx...He freely admits that the Soundview HealthCare Network, a web of clinics that evolved out of a nonprofit group he founded more than 30 years ago, has made him a household name in many parts of the Bronx and helped him get elected to his first Senate seat in 1992, after a failed run for Congress in 1988. “I created a valuable human service organization that gave me tremendous name recognition in the community,” Mr. Espada, 55, said in an interview Friday. “The community always saw that as Pedro’s clinic. That does happen when you have a strong personality.”

And while we're at it, maybe the Post could-in the interest of being fair and balanced-examine the salaries of the entire not-for-profit sector in NYC. We're sure that Peter Gelb is doing a great job running the Metropolitan Opera, but is his $1.5 million justified? And is some of the money that goes to his salary coming from the same public sources that fund Soundview?

And take a look at our local universities, where the slash and burn, community be damned Lee Bollinger pulls in $1.4 million a year. Finally, not to beat the horse into a coma, go down to Philly where Ralph Muller runs the University of Pennsylvania Health System for a paltry $2.5 million a year. Isn't Sounview doing the same thing as UPenn? And the proof of the pudding is, as they say, in the eating.

The Times makes this clear in talking to the folks who utilize this vital health delivery system: "None of this seems to trouble patients or doctors at his clinics. “I don’t know the history so I can’t comment on it,” Leopoldo Fleming, a dapper 69-year-old percussionist, said last week as he left the flagship clinic, the Soundview Health Center at 731 White Plains Road. Mr. Fleming, who has lived in the neighborhood since 1959, was getting a checkup before setting off for a European gig in July. The clinic is better than the emergency room, he said, and “I like the way I’m treated when I come here.”

And the quality of the care is reflected by the quality of the doctors Soundview attracts: "The network’s medical director, Dr. David C. Collymore, is a New York success story. His parents are from Barbados, his mother a day care teacher and his father an accountant and preacher. He grew up in South Jamaica, Queens, graduated from Hunter College High School, one of the city’s elite public schools, and went to Howard University on scholarship."

Is Pedro Espada using his health network to make a name for himself. As Sarah Palin might say, "you betcha!" Is Mike Bloomberg using his money and financial network for self aggrandizement? You all get the picture-but for the Post, the focus is on the little guys, while the rich social cohort of the publisher (Steve Ross of Related comes to mind)-are wined, dined, and pocket lined by the mayor.

So Espada and Soundview are doing an immense amount of good things for the medically underserved communities of the South Bronx. As the Uptown Chronicle reports: "With 2,832,287 people in New York City eligible for Medicaid this year, according to New York State’s Department of Health and Human Services, there is a disproportionate number of patients receiving subsidized healthcare in the city’s poorer neighborhoods. In the South Bronx, where unemployment hovers above 13 percent, it’s the small conveniences that make Soundview so appealing to residents in the neighborhood. “It’s a big reason why I come here,” Rodriguez said. “They don’t hassle you. This place is meant for people who are poor. It’s not a big surprise to them or anything.”

So before the AG-and the Post-look to make an example out of Pedro Espada, maybe they should re-examine what he has been able to accomplish for the communities that his health clinics serve. The demonization of Espada is simply a caricature of the man and his work. When it is all said and done, there are few people in the legislature-or in statewide office for that matter-who have done more to help poor people than Pedro Espada. We're just saying.