State Rep. Leslie Acosta knows her days are numbered in Harrisburg.
So it goes when you confess to the feds that you conspired to commit money laundering, which Acosta did back in April. And while she was re-elected without contest in November, her colleagues in the state capital aren’t jonesing to reseat a convicted felon come the new year.
Least of all Acosta’s former ally, State Rep. Angel Cruz.
Acosta has kept mum with the press about a “surprise” legal argument to retain her seat for a second term. Last weekend, however, she made an hour-long appearance on the Spanish-language radio station El Zol, in which she trash-talked Cruz and threw in the name of her own potential replacement candidate.
“When someone is in love with themselves and with power, and with influence that [Cruz] thinks he has, I think he thinks this a contest,” Acosta said in Spanish, speaking with the hosts of the Ritmo de la Comunidad program. “Let’s be clear…I don’t want to personally attack Angel, but I think that Angel at this stage should stay neutral in the situation and show more respect.”
Acosta was referring to Cruz working with ward leaders in Acosta’s district to hand-pick her replacement if and when she is forced to step down in January, which would trigger a special election. But Acosta didn’t stop there.
“The motive here is [Cruz] doesn’t want any competition in Harrisburg,” Acosta said on El Zol. “He wants to be the only one in Harrisburg who represents [the Latino community] over there. And this would be perfect if he were a person who would work hard to do something constructive in this community, but what Angel Cruz has done is divide this community and do things that don’t make any sense. He should be worried about his district … that in 16 years he hasn’t done a thing for, and everyone knows this.”
Reached by PW on Tuesday, Cruz said that Acosta’s recent radio appearances—she made another on Sunday, he said—were an attempt to coax him into battle.
“If five people heard her interviews, that’s a lot. She just wants me to hear it so that I’ll attack,” Cruz said. “Well listen, I got better things to do with my time.”
Cruz and Acosta’s districts share borders in the Latino quarters of North Philly, with Acosta’s stretching over into the predominantly African-American neighborhoods west of Broad Street. But Acosta argued on El Zol that Cruz shouldn’t be meddling in her district’s politics.
In a closed-door meeting in September, ward leaders met with Cruz and Democratic City Committee Chairman Bob Brady to discuss Acosta-gate, according to City & State PA. They agreed to tap Noelia Diaz, a political activist last seen campaigning for Manny Morales’ failed bid to unseat Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez. Acosta could not be reached for comment. But on El Zol, she suggested that, if she is forced to resign, she wants to bequeath the seat to Freddy Ramirez, president of Pan-American Mental Health Services.
She argued that Ramirez was “scandal free.” Cruz told PW that the ward leaders would not back Ramirez.
“Freddy Ramirez is worse than [Acosta is],” Cruz said. “There’s a huge conflict of interest. He runs a mental health clinic in his district… I have more authority than [her] in the 197 because I represented it for ten years,” referring to the district map before it was gerrymandered into oblivion.
Calls to Ramirez were not returned by press time.
Ramirez’s role at a mental health clinic may pose another issue. After all, Acosta’s confessed felony dates back to her employment at Juniata Community Mental Health Clinic before she was elected. She is reportedly cooperating in the federal case against the one of Juniata clinic’s politically connected founders, Renee Tartaglione, the daughter of former battleax city commissioner Margaret “Marge” Tartaglione and sister of State Sen. Christine “Tina” Tartaglione.
Upon returning to Harrisburg in November, she was received with cold shoulders and unforgiving remarks from her colleagues. Many have openly accused her of wearing a wire on behalf of federal agents. Wrapping up her El Zol session, however, Acosta maintained a wait-and-see outlook.
“The fat lady has not sung yet,” Acosta said. “I’m still in the seat. I have a big surprise for people in January, so stay tuned.”
Martín Martínez contributed to this report.