By Howard Koplowitz
With about 100 supporters surrounding him, state Sen. Hiram Monserrate (D-East Elmhurst) denounced the Senate report that may lead to his expulsion from the body and introduced his new legal team Sunday at a Jackson Heights restaurant.
“The people that you see here today, they are my bosses,” Monserrate said. Some of his backers held up signs saying “People’s Choice.”
“This is about the choice of the people,” not the Senate, Monserrate said during a news conference at Natives restaurant on Northern Boulevard. “Nobody else can decide except the people.”
Monserrate was convicted of misdemeanor assault for an incident in which the face of his girlfriend, Karla Giraldo, was slashed with broken glass. He was acquitted of felony assault. Both have said the incident was an accident.
The conviction led to a Senate commission that looked into possible options for dealing with Monserrate, which included censure — a type of reprimand — or expulsion.
Civil rights attorney Norman Siegel, one of two lawyers now representing Monserrate, said there are issues with the Senate report.
“Sen. Monserrate’s case raises substantial questions concerning what a constitutional democracy is all about. It’s about the right of the voters to choose their elected official.”
“Our position is simple: One, the New York State Senate does not have the authority to expel Sen. Monserrate, and even if they do, their actions have not been consistent with due process of the law,” Siegel continued. “And finally, the New York State Senate has not even followed its own laws regarding expulsion.”
Monserrate invoked the civil rights movement, bringing up that 40 years ago students from Queens College, which he attended, participated in freedom rides to protest discrimination against blacks in the South. He said if the Senate removes him, the body would be “pushing back the clock.”
Sen. Ruben Diaz (D-Bronx), who along with Monserrate were part of the so-called “Gang of Four” that left the majority of the Senate in limbo for a month before deciding to re-align themselves with the Democrats, said the Senate was trying to kick out Monserrate because he is Hispanic.
“If you want to say I’m playing the race card, you know me, I don’t care,” Diaz said.
Diaz said there have been senators in the past convicted of misdemeanors or of physically harming people where there has never been a vote to expel.
“They’re doing this to a Puerto Rican,” Diaz said, referring to Monserrate. “They have not done this [before] to anybody.”
Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 173.