By Bill Parry
State Assemblywoman Ari Espinal (D-Jackson Heights) issued a challenge to her opponents for a series of three debates ahead of the Sept. 13 primary election.
Espinal ran unopposed in the April 24 special election for the vacant 39th Assembly District seat, which represents Corona, Elmhurst and Jackson Heights.
“I am proud of my record of serving this neighborhood, and I look forward to debating my opponents,” Espinal said. “A debate is an important opportunity for candidates and officials to prove their ability to deliver for the community and discuss their views and experiences. I welcome the chance to engage with my opponents and demonstrate to voters why I should be re-elected in September.”
Espinal’s proposal, which she announced May 15, would include debates held in Corona, Elmhurst and Jackson Heights in July and August run by impartial organizations and at neutral locations. Espinal came under criticism for missing a public debate May 10 due to prior commitments, leaving challengers Catalina Cruz and Yonell Letellier Sosa to debate against each other.
“I am encouraged to learn of Ari Espinal’s belated intentions to engage in our democratic process,” Democratic challenger Cruz said. “However, I am disappointed that she failed to attend our most recent opportunity to address the communities of Corona, Elmhurst and Jackson Heights. Nearly 200 community residents attended the debate organized by the New Visions Democratic Club and the Lesbian and Gay Democratic Club of Queens. It is unfortunate they did not hear from her.”
Cruz was not the only candidate who was displeased that an opponent failed to attend the Jackson Heights event. State Senate challenger Jessica Ramos blasted state Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst) for “skipping out” on the year’s first Democratic primary debate for Senate District 13.
“Peralta talks a big game about fighting for Queens, but when it’s time to actually show up for his constituents, he is nowhere to be found,” Ramos said. “It’s no surprise Peralta dodged this debate, since his years-long allegiance with the Senate Republicans is indefensible. Peralta betrayed our community by empowering the party of Trump instead of fighting for immigrants, tenants, straphangers and women.”
The Peralta campaign said the senator could not attend due to commitments to other community meetings. His Twitter page shows he attended a meet-and-greet with Corona homeowners, the 110th Precinct Community Council Meeting and he was the keynote speaker at a meeting of the North Queens Homeowners Association during the Jackson Heights debate. In an e-mail to New Visions President Shekar Krishnan dated May 8, Peralta campaign manager Michael Olmeda informed the organization that he was unable to attend.
“Senator Peralta gave ample notice of his inability to attend the New Visions Democratic Club’s debate in an e-mail that was sent to Mr. Krishnan three days ago,” Peralta for Queens spokeswoman Jennifer Blatus said last Friday. “That letter expressed interest in addressing the members of New Visions in an upcoming meeting and requested an alternative date. Senator Peralta will not let this report of false information distract him from the Democratic community that wants to be heard. The senator wants to debate, not entertain political shenanigans disguised as an instrument of change.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr