By Bill Parry
State Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst) and state Assemblywoman Ari Espinal (D-Jackson Heights) say they believe debates are an integral part of the democratic process in America, provided they are fair and impartial.
“Debates are crucial parts of the Democratic process, and it is imperative for voters to have the chance to hear from their prospective leaders,” Peralta said. “Just as importantly, debates should be organized by unbiased groups and agreed upon by all candidates involved. I am committed to debating my opponents, and I look forward to discussing my record with voters.”
Neither Peralta nor Espinal will be participating in the June 21 debate night at the Jackson Heights Jewish Center.
“Both the assemblywoman and I have day jobs and we commit to events months in advance,” Peralta said. “Sometimes we’ve committed to be the keynote speaker. You can’t just cancel on your constituents and say I’ve got to debate. You sit down and negotiate a date, a time, an impartial location with unbiased organizers. Instead we got an e-mail inviting us to the event without any negotiations. Plus, you know how crazy the last two weeks are in Albany as the legislative session comes to an end”
A similar situation occurred last month at a debate organized by the New Visions Democratic Club and the Lesbian and Gay Democratic Club of Queens when Peralta and Espinal came under criticism for missing the May 10 event due to prior commitments. Peralta’s challenger, Jessica Ramos, accused him of “skipping out” on the year’s first Democratic primary debate and both Peralta and Espinal were slammed on social media.
“It seems like we’re being set up,” Espinal said. “If you don’t show up, it’s on you and then the pack comes after you.”
On May 15, Espinal proposed debating her two challengers, Catalina Cruz and Yonell Letellier Sosa, in July and August in events run by impartial organizations and at neutral locations in Corona, Jackson Heights and Elmhurst.
“It is critical that the people of Queens get to hear the views of all candidates in an impartial setting,” Espinal said. “The 39th District deserves fair debates, and that is why I am committed to organizing a series of three debates with my opponents. My campaign has reached out to my opponents with a list of neutral organizations and locations to host these events so that we can ensure a fair playing field. I am proud of my record, and I am ready to debate my opponents.”
Peralta took issue with the three co-sponsoring organizations of Thursday’s debate night, which include the Interfaith Center of New York, the Jackson Heights Parents for Public Schools and the Jackson Heights Beautification Group.
“These are organizations that may seem neutral, but the Jackson Heights Beautifications Group? Ramos is a board member,” he said.
Ramos campaign spokeswoman Monica Klein fired back.
“Once again, Jose Peralta will find any excuse to get out of debating Jessica Ramos and defending his record to the people of Queens,” Klein said. “It’s no surprise Peralta is planning to dodge another debate, since his years-long allegiance with the senate Republicans is indefensible.”
Interfaith Center of New York’s Community organizer Naureen Akhter, who will host Thursday’s debate night, was surprised by the comments from Peralta and Espinal.
“All of the candidates received their invitations to debate May 23. If they needed to change the date, we could have discussed rescheduling, but there was zero response from either campaign,” Akhter said. “As far as negotiating, ours is just a local neighborhood effort to inform voters about their options. I saw Senator Peralta in Corona over the weekend and tried to discuss his participation, but he just got in his car and drove away.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr