By Bill Parry
Two days after Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the renegade Independent Democratic Conference had dissolved and reunited with the mainline Democrats in Albany, state Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst) declared it an historic moment that has put the Democratic Party in a position to take over the majority in the Senate for just the second time in more than 50 years.
“We are living in a great moment and all Democrats should be rejoicing,” Peralta said in an interview at the TimesLedger offices. “For years now Democrats have been saying there should be unity, that both sides should come together, and here we are. I joined the IDC because there was no clear path to victory to get to the majority, but all that has changed now.”
Peralta said reunification became possible with a new cooperation among congressional leadership to take back the House of Representatives in Washington tied to coordination to recapture the state Senate with the governor and the county leaders in all five boroughs.
“For once all the pieces are coming together and we’re one step closer to history and come November we’ll be celebrating a very good majority and than we can pass progressive issues,” Peralta said. “In the interest of the greater good we decided as a group and now we’re going to drive the train in the right direction.”
Peralta’s primary challenger, Jackson Heights resident Jessica Ramos, is refusing to step aside along with seven other candidates who are seeking to unseat former members of the IDC, blaming their power-sharing arrangements with Republicans for seven years of GOP budgets that the candidates say have hurt the working class.
“Part of the reason I’m running is I’m emblematic of the voter who was hurt by this budget and the one before it,” Ramos said. “There’s no talk of real rent reform, there are no tenant protections in the last two budgets and the only fix that made it into the budget for the MTA was the surcharge on for hire vehicles, which is a drop in the bucket compared to the investment we have to make in our infrastructure.”
Peralta was not surprised Ramos stayed in the race.
“Look, it’s a Democracy and in a Democracy people can run,” he said.
Last month, City Councilman Costa Constantinides (D-Astoria) became the first elected official to endorse an anti-IDC candidate when he announced his support for Ramos. City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) followed one week later and he has given no thought to walking it back in the interest of party unity.
“No, nothing has changed and my endorsement stands because Jessica Ramos will make a great Senator and no deal will change that,” he said. City Comptroller Scott Stringer is standing by his Ramos endorsement 110 percent, according to his staff.
“In the end it’s not the endorsements, it’s the voters who will determine who receives their votes,” Peralta said. “The main argument you hear is ‘I’m running against so and so because he’s part of the IDC and he’s not a mainline Democrat’ but it’s over now. It’s done. Now why are you running again?”
Ramos took umbrage with that and predicted Peralta would have a harder time than he thinks making amends to those constituents who protested against his switch to the IDC 14 months ago.
“It’s very disheartening to hear, it sounds like there is no remorse and he’s completely out of touch with the people he’s hurt,” Ramos said. “Being a Democrat isn’t about checking a box on your voter registration card. Being a Democrat is standing up for a certain value set and fighting for the working people and the poor. That actually makes me sad.”
Peralta appeared with his old political foe, Hiram Montserrate, at last Saturday’s meeting of the East Elmhurst Corona Democratic Club and last month he appeared at a meeting of the New Visions Democratic Club, the same organization that cancelled his membership when Peralta joined the IDC.
“Senator Peralta’s efforts are too little, too late at this point,” New Visions President Shekar Krishnan said. “What he should be doing, should be focusing on is addressing the community, his constituents, and club members who feel betrayed by his decision to join the IDC in the first place. If he comes to a club meeting again, we will call him up to do just that.”
Peralta says he has already reached out to some constituents who “voiced their concerns when I joined the IDC.” He also points to the hundreds of millions he was able to allocate for school extensions in his district during his 14 months with the IDC as well as nearly $15 million for an immigrant defense fund and another $7 million each year for non-profits in his district.
“My constituents have become extended family to me during the last eight years in the Senate and before that there was eight years in the Assembly,” Peralta said. “I made this move, I knew I was going to take a hit and now we’re all together trying to get to the majority. Nothing compares to when I voted for marriage equality in 2011. My own priest didn’t want me to come to my church and the whole congregation was looking at me sideways. I believed we were ahead of the curve, we were going to be right and the country would follow. I took a beating from the Catholic Church for several years over that vote. The church realized with time that it is now the law of the land and people have learned to accept that over time.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr