By Bill Parry
A group of 30 protesters gathered Saturday outside the Jackson Heights Post Office and called on state Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst) to leave the Republican-aligned Independent Democratic Conference and either rejoin mainline Democrats or resign.
They expressed outrage that Peralta failed to follow through on a promise to hold a town hall meeting to discuss his votes on the New York State budget, in which he failed to pass the DREAM Act, his rationale for joining the IDC in January.
“I distrust the way he’s falling into line with the Republicans,” Jackson Heights resident Kristen Clipper said. “That’s the last thing we need. We need to vote Peralta out.”
Becky Cornelissen brought her two children to the rally despite a driving rain that led organizers to cancel a march to Peralta’s office on Junction Boulevard. She said the protest was a teachable moment.
“The lesson I try to teach them is simple — tell the truth, be who you are, and once you have given your word, you keep your promise, because people will judge you on your actions,” Cornelissen said. “And if that lesson is easy enough for my 4- and 6-year-olds to understand, I don’t know why Peralta can’t do the same.”
Peralta told the TimesLedger he respects everyone’s right to demonstrate and to make their views known in a peaceful and respectful manner. And he defended his move to the IDC.
“I have not changed any of my progressive principles, but after joining the Independent Democratic Conference, I was able to more effectively fight for those values that we all hold dear to our hearts,” he said. “The transition has already allowed me to deliver real results, from securing grants to community-based organizations to the $10 million in state funding for legal services to help New Yorkers facing deportation. It is my hope all of us can continue to have a constructive dialogue toward maintaining and bettering the community that we all proudly call home.”
The protesters chanted “follow the money” as the speakers brought up Peralta’s roll in a growing Albany scandal. Susan Kang, a Jackson Heights resident and a member of the organization “No IDC,” spelled it out.
“The recent reports that Senator Peralta and other members of the IDC have been receiving improper payments from New York State, based on false paperwork submitted to the comptroller’s office, only reaffirms that the IDC is at the heart of the rot in Albany,” she said.
On Tuesday, Democratic Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins called for an investigation into the arrangement whereby several IDC members, including Peralta, have been receiving stipends even though they don’t chair the committees they are on. State Sen. Pamela Helming (R-Ontario County) said she will return her stipend, even though Republican Majority Leader John Flanagan and IDC leader Jeff Klein have insisted the stipends are legal.
“As part of the mainline Democrats, I was receiving a stipend of $14,500 as minority whip, and now I receive a stipend of $12,500 as the vice chair of Energy and Telecommunications,” Peralta said. “Plainly, I took a pay cut when I joined the Independent Democratic Conference. I, along with other members, am taking the direction of the state comptroller, who has made a statement about the Senate’s discretion on these matters, and more specifically, as to the allotment of stipends, which is based upon the practice of the House.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr