Bill Samuels takes on Pedro Espada in bid to reform Albany

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The man who battled the Republican “swiftboat” ads is revving up to take down Espada.

In 2004, the infamous ad campaign deriding presidential hopeful John Kerry’s military career provoked Bill Samuels to produce the documentary Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry. Now he is putting his money and muscle behind Gustavo Rivera to replace state Sen. Pedro Espada Jr. in the 33rd state Senate District.

This week, the New Roosevelt Initiative — an organization started by Mr. Samuels after he left the state party to independently raise money for what he considers pro-reform candidates — will open a field office in the district to help elect Mr. Rivera as part of a $250,000 pledge to rid the state of Mr. Espada. Due to the closeness of the race, Mr. Samuels said New Roosevelt will exceed that amount.

Mr. Rivera is only one name on a long list of candidates Mr. Samuels, a man with deep pockets and Democratic roots, is supporting in state races. But his group is only investing significant funds to help elect one “new Roosevelt” by engaging in polling, door-to-door, phone, mail and other canvassing campaigns.

That candidate is Mr. Rivera.

This particular race has special meaning for Mr. Samuels, who credits Mr. Espada with helping to inspire his drive for independent reform and who said Mr. Espada’s re-election would be a huge setback for cleaning up Albany.

“[Eliot] Spitzer let us down,” Mr. Samuels said. He worked with the former governor and Gov. David Paterson as well, raising money to put Democrats in power in 2005.

“Then a man named Pedro Espada gets elected, beats the crook, walks into Malcolm Smith’s office and says ‘I want $2 million in member items,’ which is how this crisis started,” he said, in reference to a leadership battle that led to the shutdown of the state Senate for two months.

Democrats made “a huge mistake,” Mr. Samuels said, by taking Mr. Espada back and making him majority leader after he defected to Republicans last year.

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