2012-06-20 / Features

2006

Monserrate’s Once Bright Career Ends With Assault Conviction
BY LINDA J. WILSON

n 2001 a former Marine and New York City Police Officer won an open Democratic Party primary election for the 21st City Council district seat vacated by Helen Marshall on her election as Queens borough president. Hiram Monserrate would go on to serve in the city council from 2002 to 2008, surviving many primary challenges along the way. He consistently came out against domestic violence, in 2006 securing two grants of $50,000 each to the Urban Justice Domestic Violence Project and Latin Women in Action, both based in Northwest Queens.

In 2008, Monserrate challenged state Senator John Sabini in a primary for the second time. (In 2006, he lost a primary to Sabini by 242 votes). The issue became academic after then Governor David Paterson nominated Sabini as chairman of the New York State Racing and Wagering Board. The appointment was confirmed by the state senate in August 2008 and Monserrate ran unopposed.

Monserrate, who in 1999, filed for a disability pension from the Police Department, “citing mental problems, including post-traumatic stress syndrome”, as well as depression and anxiety, was arrested Dec. 19, 2008 and charged with felony assault and possession of a weapon for stabbing his girlfriend, Karla Giraldo, in the face with a broken drinking glass at his Jackson Heights apartment. Both Monserrate and Giraldo later claimed the injury occurred when he tripped while carrying a glass of water and they “stumbled into each other”. Security camera footage showed Giraldo running to a neighbor’s door and shouting before Monserrate forced her out of the building and drove her to a hospital 20 minutes from his home. Twenty to 25 stitches were required to close the gash around Giraldo’s eye.

Monserrate was sworn in to the state senate on Jan. 7, 2009, with felony assault charges pending against him. On Mar. 27, 2009, he was arraigned on felony assault charges and entered a “not guilty” plea. The New York State Democratic Party held a senate majority for the first time in four decades; without Monserrate, they might not have been able to hold on to that majority. Monserrate temporarily stepped down from the chairmanship of the Consumer Protection Committee, to which he had been appointed by Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith after his swearing-in (he had also initially opposed Smith’s election as majority leader but after extended negotiations, supported him).

On June 8, 2009, Monserrate and state Senator Pedro Espada (D-The Bronx) formed a coalition with senate Republicans, resulting in a 32-30 majority that saw Senator Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) appointed Majority Leader and Espada installed as Temporary President of the senate, replacing Smith. A week later, the senate Democrats appointed Senator John Sampson as their leader. Monserrate responded that same day by rejoining the Democratic caucus, leaving the Senate tied. Eliot Spitzer had resigned the post of lieutenant governor, and the tie could not be resolved. The resulting legislative deadlock continued until July 9, when Espada switched back to the Democratic side.

As well as domestic violence, Monserrate had campaigned in favor of same-sex marriage. However, on Dec. 2, 2009, he voted against legislation allowing same-sex marriage. The legislation failed to pass the senate.

On Jan. 21, 2010, state Senator Brian Foley (DLong Island) introduced a resolution to the senate calling for Monserrate’s expulsion for behavior “not compatible with his oath of office”. The state senate voted to expel Monserrate by a vote of 53 to eight, with one senator not present. He was the first member of the New York state senate to be expelled since 1861.

Monserrate sued the state senate in federal court. On Feb. 19, 2010, U.S. District Court Judge William Pauley refused to reinstate him. Monserrate appealed Pauley’s decision in an attempt to overturn both his expulsion and the special election to replace the vacant seat in the state senate to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. His appeal was denied on March 12.

The Queens Democratic Party supported Assemblymember Jose Peralta in a special election held Mar. 16, 2010 for the state senate seat from which Monserrate had been expelled. Monserrate said he filed petitions on February 23 with sufficient signatures to place him on the ballot for the special election. Peralta outpolled Monserrate 65 percent to 27 percent and Republican Robert Beltrani, who garnered eight percent, to win the special election.

In July 2010, Monserrate filed petitions with the Board of Elections to be entered in the Democratic party primary election to fill the 39th Assembly District seat (Jackson Heights-Corona) that Peralta had vacated on his election to the state senate. On Sept. 14, 2010, with the support of the Democratic party leadership, Francisco Moya, a local community activist, defeated Monserrate in the primary election, 2,711 votes to 1,358 votes.

In October 2010, Monserrate was indicted on federal corruption charges alleging that he had used workers from Libre, a Queens social service agency that had received millions in earmarks that Monserrate had obtained for the organization during his tenure on the city council, using $100,000 in agency funds to pay for dozens of workers to perform campaign work collecting signatures for his 2006 senate bid. His arrest is part of a broad federal investigation to determine if council discretionary member item funds have been used for the members’ personal or political expenses He was freed after posting a $500,000 bond, secured by a home belonging to his parents. His motion to be allowed to use public funds to defend himself was denied. He also indicated that he was unemployed and he did not affirm to the judge that he was seeking any employment. He has been assigned a court-appointed attorney. If convicted, he could face up to 20 years in prison.

Monserrate was last seen working at Papaya Pizza in Corona, in a building that had formerly housed his campaign headquarters, on Apr. 11, 2011. The business is registered to Monserrate’s mother’s house.

A state appeals court on Dec. 15, 2011 upheld Monserrate’s 2009 misdemeanor assault conviction.

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