(Left): Challenger Jessica Ramos told the Queens Tribune she feels betrayed by Peralta’s decision to join the IDC. (Right): Incumbent state Senator Jose Peralta rallies at LeFrak City with members of the Black Leadership Action Coalition.
With the Democratic state Senate primaries just weeks away, the Queens Tribune spent time this week with former friends turned competitors incumbent state Sen. Jose Peralta (D-Elmhurst) and challenger Jessica Ramos, both of whom said they were betrayed by the other.
Ramos’ decision to resign from her position as director of ethnic media in the mayor’s office and run for state Senate was made in light of Peralta’s move to the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), a breakaway group of Democrats who worked closely with Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Senate Republicans to pass bills in the closely divided legislative body. The partnership deteriorated this past year, and the IDC members reached a pact to rejoin the larger Democratic Party fold.
“I believed in Peralta just like everyone else did,” said Ramos. “My parents even helped him get elected back when he first ran. When he announced that he was joining the IDC, I was baffled.”
Ramos said that she attended Peralta’s “infamous town hall” following his IDC announcement, and that she couldn’t stop shaking her head the entire time.
“I couldn’t believe it,” said Ramos. “I was stunned. I mean, how could you betray your people like that?”
Peralta said when he first heard rumors that Ramos was running against him, he called her. Considering that the two of them were friends, he couldn’t believe it.
“She confirmed that she was running, and I asked why, when she knows that I’m bringing resources to the community—and she said people are telling her that I’m not, so I was like, ‘OK,’” said Peralta.
Ramos said that when she meets people and tells them why she is running and whom she is running against, she doesn’t use the initials “IDC.”
“I say I’m running against the current state senator, who voted for the Republican majority for the past two years,” said Ramos.
Ramos said that her mother, a Colombian immigrant, crossed the border, flew to Mexico and crossed the Mexican border on foot. When she heard that Peralta had joined the IDC, she felt betrayed.
“Her heart sank,” said Ramos. “He didn’t even have a conversation without talking to other elected officials. For months at the New Visions Democratic Club, we heard him say the IDC was so bad—and then he went and joined them.”
Peralta said that although there are still people who are upset with his decision to join the IDC, they understand when he explains to them why he made that decision. He said that people’s not trusting him is just a narrative.
“People have seen what I’ve been able to deliver. They have seen my track record and they know I made that decision for them,” said Peralta. “I’m proud of bringing resources back to my district, even if it was by being in the IDC. I’ve always been true to my Democratic values.”
Ramos, on the other hand, said that she doesn’t believe Peralta’s explanation that he joined the IDC so he could have a seat at the table.
“He gave my kids’ school—PS 69—a check for $100,000,” said Ramos. “What good is $100,000 when he skips out on a vote to fully fund the school and get it the $2 million that it’s owed? It’s a photo-op, a political gimmick. You can’t do that.”
Ramos said that the IDC didn’t show up in Albany for the vote to fully fund schools because it didn’t want a “no” vote on its record.
“He should not have missed that vote to fully fund the schools,” said Ramos. “He should have been there. I don’t know about anyone else, but I need my state senator to show up for my kids.”
Peralta said that in government, it’s difficult to please everyone—but when constituents walk into his office needing attorneys or he’s walking down the street and people thank him for helping them, that’s all the motivation he needs to stay in office. He added that he knows he is getting the job done and that he has a proven track record backing him.
Both candidates visited the district’s senior community as the Queens Tribune covered them.
Ramos spent Friday afternoon knocking on approximately 150 doors of East Elmhurst’s senior residents to greet them, share her campaign platform, and listen to their issues and concerns.
“We do it because that really is the most genuine way to get out our message to voters,” said Ramos. “I believe in doing my due diligence and making sure that people actually meet me. If I’m going to represent them in the state Senate or anywhere, for that matter, they should meet me and get to know me; and it’s important for me to get to know them and to understand what issues are important to them, whether they agree with me or not.”
Among the issues that the seniors brought to Ramos’ attention were traffic safety and quality-of-life issues, such as stop signs, parking or street lighting.
Peralta began Monday with a press conference at LeFrak City, where tenants called for an end to major capital improvement rent increases, an end to violence on 57th Avenue, and better services for seniors, who currently have to travel from LeFrak City to St. Marks AME Church in Flushing, where seniors are currently renting the church’s basement for a senior center.
Following the press conference, where Peralta stated that he would continue to fight for the residents of LeFrak City and was endorsed by the Black Leadership Action Coalition (BLAC), he visited three of the district’s senior centers: Elmcor Senior Center, the LeFrak senior center at St. Mark AME Church and the IPRHE Corona Senior Center.
“I always visit seniors and I always want to ensure that they are not forgotten because they have given so much to the city and state and, too often, they get kind of pushed to the side, so I always make it a point to visit senior centers and I do this on a weekly basis,” said Peralta. “Ever since I’ve gotten elected from Assembly on, I’ve always visited senior centers. This is not just about visiting seniors when it is convenient from time to time. You’ve got to be consistent, every week, every month.”
Peralta said that when he gets re-elected, of which he is confident, his main priority is the DREAM (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) Act, a bill that would grant legal status to certain undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children and attended school there.
“We currently have 27 co-sponsors and we need 32,” said Peralta. “Once the state Senate gets into the majority, I want to make sure that the DREAM Act passes, because if everyone has been telling the world we need a majority to pass, I don’t want any excuses.”
Ramos, who is also confident that she will win, said that her first priority is to make the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) an agency.
“The MTA should be a state agency that we can regulate and hold accountable to people,” said Ramos. “Money is being thrown around in the MTA, and there’s no way of knowing exactly where it’s going and how much.”
She said she’d also like to get more rapid bus transit in western Queens.
“For me, it’s very outrageous that there seems to be $1 billion to build an Airtrain for tourists to get to LaGuardia Airport, while folks here have been fighting for equity in public transportation for such a long time,” said Ramos. “I think it’s insulting.”
Peralta said he believed that the race comes down to who has a proven track record.
“It’s about who has been there, who has existing relationships with the Senate, Assembly, the governor’s office, and who can navigate the system,” said Peralta. “I have served for eight years. I’ve got the relationships that will help push back against the Trump administration.”
But Ramos believes that the district needs a new representative.
“Traditionally, we seek to elect people for whom the system has worked and then we were frustrated because they can’t figure out how to fix it,” said Ramos. “We can’t keep sending people who have been able to thrive. We have to send people for whom the system has not worked because they understand what it will take to fix it. For a long time, [women] felt like we could trust certain men to have our backs, but then after eight years, they haven’t been able to step up to the plate to protect us. At some point, as a woman, you have to say, ‘I can do it myself, thank you.’”
Reach Ariel Hernandez at (718) 357-7400 x144, firstname.lastname@example.org or @reporter_ariel.