By Bill Parry
State Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst) has withstood a firestorm of criticism for more than three weeks since he announced he was joining the Independent Democratic Conference last month. His defection from the Senate’s mainline Democrats led to chants of “traitor” during a town hall meeting in Jackson Heights that drew hundreds and last week U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights), the chairman of the Queens Democratic Party, said he was disappointed in Peralta’s “decision to undermine our party and empower the Republican caucus.”
In explaining his decision to hold the town hall meeting, Peralta was critical of the Democratic leadership in the Senate, saying, “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.”
Peralta also said the leadership lacked a legislative plan and did not have a strategy to regain the majority. State Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria), the deputy Democratic leader, fired back this week.
“I am extremely disappointed in Senator Peralta’s decision to partner with the Senate Republican, who are New York’s biggest supporters of President Trump and his backward agenda,” Gianaris said. “Now is the time for Democrats to stick together and unite in resistance to the Trump agenda that is endangering our nation’s values.”
Peralta was also tossed out of his own Democratic club. Twenty-six board members of the New Visions Democratic Club, which represents Jackson Heights, Elmhurst and Corona, voted unanimously to oust Peralta.
“The New Visions Democratic Club has taken the position that state Sen. Jose Peralta should return to the Democratic Conference immediately,” President Shekar Krishnan said. “We will welcome him back into the club when he does.”
The 400-plus members of the New Visions Democratic Club were flummoxed by Peralta’s defection because at a Jan. 14 meeting, Peralta was highly critical of the IDC.
“It was quite surprising when he announced he would join because just weeks before he railed against the IDC,” board member Rhoda Dunn said. “It wasn’t positive, let’s put it that way.”
Another board member, Victoria Steinberg, said his defection felt like a betrayal.
“It was a slap in the face,” she said. “On Jan. 14 he depicted the IDC as unprincipled, immoral, manipulative and a blight on the state Senate. We had no warning about his decision. He lied to us at the board.”
Peralta declined to comment on his ouster from the club, but his communication director, Juan Soto, emailed a statement to TimesLedger Newspapers.
“It’s not a surprise that the New Visions Democratic Club, controlled by the Democratic machine, took this action,” he said. “Senator Peralta looks forward to a healthy debate now and during his re-election.”
The situation became more inflammatory Monday, when state Sen. Jeff Klein (D-Bronx), the leader of the IDC said he thinks some of the criticism of Peralta, a Dominican, and two other new members of the IDC. a Dominican womanand a black man, is racist.
“Senator Klein’s statements are flat out wrong and offensive,” Krishnan said. “The New Visions Democratic Club is proudly one of the most diverse and progressive clubs in New York City.”
Steinberg had a suggestion for Klein.
“I want him to come and look at our membership,” she said. “We really reflect our community.”
Judging from comments made by several speakers during the town hall meeting, Peralta still enjoys a level of support in his district, where he served in the Assembly from 2002 to 2010, when he was elected to the Senate. He has been re-elected twice by large margins.
“I personally think that Senator Peralta has been working hard for the good of the community,” Corona resident Francisco Solano said. “He has always helped our Hispanic community to overcome obstacles of being a new immigrant in a new country. The quality of work he does for our community helps us grow, and we are thankful for his support.”
Corona resident Lester Youngblood protested the injustices of segregation as a young black man in Alabama in the 1960s.
“I was beaten and had to play dead in order not to be killed for my beliefs,” he said. “I wholeheartedly believe that Sen. Jose Peralta is an elected official who fights for the rights of the disenfranchised, and for those who do not have a voice. That is why I support him, and I know firsthand that his intention is to support his constituents in every way that he can.”
Peralta went before hundreds of those constituents during an immigration forum Wednesday night at PS 19 in East Elmhurst. He announced he was creating “Sanctuary District 13” as part of the effort to protect the immigrant community at a time of federal raids by providing legal services and resources.
“As New York leads the way in so many social and economic issues, this is now the time to lead the way in protecting our immigrant families and communities from the threat of the new administration’s unjust policies,” Peralta said. “I want to make sure that my constituents know that they are not fighting alone against this administration, and this is why it is very important that they know what to do in case officers asked them about their immigration status, if they are approached or if they are taken into custody.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr