BY ZACHARY GEWELB AND ROBERT POZARYCKI
Jose Peralta, who had represented northwest Queens in the Assembly and State Senate over the last 16 years, died suddenly on Wednesday night. He was just 47.
The incumbent state senator died while undergoing treatment at Elmhurst Hospital, surrounded by his family, according to WPIX-TV. It’s not exactly clear, however, what caused his death.
The New York Daily News initially reported that Peralta had apparently suffered a heart attack, but Peralta’s wife, Evelyn, told the paper later that he had suffered some kind of infection that began days earlier. In an interview with the New York Post, she said that her husband developed a fever on Tuesday night and complained of pressure in his head and shortness of breath.
He went to the doctor but “they didn’t find anything, everything was normal,” Evelyn Peralta told the Post. By Wednesday night, however, he “couldn’t breathe, and all of a sudden, he stopped.” Doctors had speculated that Senator Peralta may have suffered from a form of meningitis, she noted.
Christopher Sosa, a spokesperson for Peralta’s office, confirmed that the state senator died at 9:23 p.m. on Nov. 21, but that “the precise details around medical cause of death are still being determined.”
“The senator’s family asks for privacy as they grieve,” Sosa said in a statement. “We are deeply grateful for the outpouring of support and love we’ve received amid this heartbreaking loss.”
All around Queens, Peralta’s colleagues and even rivals mourned his passing.
“Tragic news about @SenatorPeralta,” state Senator Michael Gianaris wrote on Twitter. “My heart goes out to his family. Rest In Peace.”
Peralta was in his final weeks as a state senator; he lost his re-election bid to challenger Jessica Ramos in the September Democratic primary after a hard-fought campaign. Ramos also took to Twitter to mourn Peralta’s loss.
“José Peralta is gone too soon,” Senator-elect Ramos wrote. “When I met him in 2003 I saw a world of promise for our community & though years later we’d disagree on tackling the issues, I know in his heart he loved his community. He was a true public servant. Strength & love to his wife, sons, and loved ones.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio also mourned Peralta’s passing in a post to his Facebook page: “Jose Peralta was a proud son of Queens and the Dominican Republic. He worked his way up from the grassroots, with heart and tenacity. Chirlane and I are both pained by his sudden loss. Our prayers are with his wife Evelyn and his sons.”
Congressman Joe Crowley, who chairs the Queens County Democratic Party, called Peralta “an enormous figure in Queens … dedicated to our communities and neighborhoods and his lifetime of service will be gratefully remembered by many in New York City.”
“Jose was a distinct politician – a man who always did what he felt was right, even if it was politically unpopular. That requires a level of courage and bravery we should all seek to emulate,” Crowley said.
Peralta grew up in Washington Heights until the age of 8, when his family relocated to Queens. He went on to graduate from Flushing High School and from Queens College, where he earned a degree in sociology.
In January 2003, Peralta became the first Latino resident elected to represent Queens in the state Assembly. He would serve in the 39th Assembly District seat.
Seven years later, in 2010, voters would elect Peralta to the State Senate in a special election to succeed Hiram Monserrate, who had been expelled from office.
Over the last eight years, Peralta has represented the 13th State Senate District, which includes all or parts of Corona, Elmhurst, Jackson Heights and Woodside. During his time in office, he fought for improvements in education, immigration and even conditions on the Roosevelt Avenue streetscape.
In 2017, Peralta joined the Independent Democratic Conference, a breakaway group of eight state Senate Democrats that formed a majority coalition with state Senate Republicans. The move angered many of his constituents, but Peralta said his membership in the IDC would enable him to secure more for his district and pass meaningful legislation. The IDC would rejoin the traditional Democratic caucus in 2018.
Governor Andrew Cuomo mourned his passing in a Thanksgiving Day statement.
“Senator Peralta was a dedicated public servant, a relentless advocate for Queens and a pioneer as the first Dominican-American elected to the New York State Senate,” Cuomo said. “As a Member of the Assembly for eight years and then as Senator, he fought tirelessly to make a difference for others, and he will always be remembered for his service to Queens and to all New Yorkers. This is a reminder of how precious life is — hold your families a little bit closer today as we think about all we are thankful for.”
Peralta is survived by his wife, Evelyn, and sons Matthew and Myles. According to a post on the 115th Precinct‘s Facebook page, Senator Peralta’s wake will be held from 2 to 8 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 26, at Joseph F. Farenga Funeral Home, 38-08 Ditmars Blvd., Astoria. A Mass of Christian Burial will be held at 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 27, at St. Joan of Arc Church, 82-00 35th Ave., Jackson Heights.
This story was updated on Nov. 23 at 7:15 p.m.