By Bill Parry
The leader of the Queens Democratic machine is taking umbrage with one lawmaker’s defection to the renegade Independent Democratic Conference. State Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst) announced he was joining the IDC Jan. 25, bringing its membership to eight in the state Senate where the group is allied with Republicans to form a majority coalition.
“Senator Peralta’s constituents elected him to support our Democratic principles in Albany and his decision to undermine our party and empower the Republican caucus betrays that trust,” U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights), the chairman of the Queens Democratic Party, said Tuesday. “As Democrats we’re deeply disappointed because the people of western Queens deserve better.”
The blowback from Peralta’s constituents in District 13, which is made up of dominantly Democratic neighborhoods such as Jackson Heights, Corona, Elmhurst, East Elmhurst and parts of Astoria, where he won re-election with nearly 87 percent of the vote in November, has been fierce. Social media was ablaze for days after the announcement with Peralta trying to explain his decision to many who posted on his Facebook page.
The phones in his office rang non-stop so Peralta scheduled a town hall meeting at the Jackson Heights Jewish Center last Friday night but issued no official notice from his office.
A standing room crowd of more than 200 turned out by word of mouth and the meeting turned combative at times with supporters on one side of the room and the opposition on the other. Peralta was greeted with chants of “traitor” and he was shouted down and booed often.
“You are empowering the Republicans and everyone in this room knows it,” Jackson Heights resident Jennifer Dabnau said. “Your constituents are angry. We are probably going to vote you out.”
When things would quiet down inside the hall, you could hear chanting from an overflow crowd standing behind police lines on 77th Street.
“Over the last few months I’ve been doing a lot of soul-searching about where we are going to go as a party, where we are going to go as a community,” Peralta explained to the crowd inside. “Many of us became frustrated with the way things were going in the state Senate. Then came the Trump administration, and as we know, we cannot sit on the sidelines when it comes to this administration.”
In a separate interview with TimesLedger Newspapers, Peralta further explained that in his district, which he calls the United Nations of Senate Districts because it is where 167 languages are spoken within a mile of Roosevelt Avenue, people are worried about what is going to happen to them and their families under the Trump administration with its anti-immigrant policies that can be enacted with the signing of an executive order.
“It’s about calming the waters,” he said. “I want to be able to have that seat at the table, have that voice to say ‘slow down Republicans.’”
During the town hall meeting, Peralta denied a New York Post report that he joined the IDC to receive larger stipends to cover his debts. He called the story “very fabricated” based on outdated financial materials that failed to mention his wife’s salary.
Peralta enjoyed support from several outspoken supporters, including one longtime Jackson Heights resident who called the opposition “rude and childish.” IDC state Sens. Diane Savino (D-Staten Island) and Jesse Hamilton (D-Brooklyn) were there in solidarity with Peralta, but state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) was not and his office did not reply to a request for comment.
At the end of the town hall meeting, Peralta left through a side door to avoid the crowd on the sidewalk. On his way to a waiting car a woman approached him but was escorted away by a police officer.
“I decided to hold a town hall meeting because I wanted to explain my decision to join the Independent Democratic Conference to the people of my district,” Peralta said Tuesday. “I wanted to let my constituents know about the failures of the minority Democratic Conference, a conference I left because I disagree with their objectives of bad mouthing and cannibalizing other Democrats that did not agree with them. “I stand by my decision more than ever. The minority Democratic Conference does not have a legislative plan, does not have a plan to regain the majority. On the contrary, the IDC has a vision, a plan that includes leading the charge on raise the age (for Rikers), on providing farm workers with labor protection, on fighting the homelessness crisis in the city. We are on the front lines of Trumpism, protecting our immigrants, our immigrant communities.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr