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Queens Chronicle

Peralta is not sorry for joining the IDC

Senator speaks with the Chronicle

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Posted: Thursday, May 3, 2018 10:30 am

For a little more than a year, state Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst) has been able to bring money back to his district to fund things like new school auditoriums, air-conditioned classrooms and cleaning services along Roosevelt Avenue and Ditmars Boulevard.

Peralta was one of only two senators in Queens who were able to secure this type of money through the state budget — the other being state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside).

Both were members of the Independent Democratic Conference, the now-dissolved coalition that shared power with Senate Republicans for seven years. The IDC’s existence kept the GOP in charge of the upper chamber, even though Democrats had a numerical majority.

And though many have criticized Peralta for empowering Republicans, the senator in a recent interview said he believes people in the district will realize he did it to benefit them.

“When the mom comes into my district office ... and shows me pictures of an auditorium with broken chairs,” he said, “and I help them and I provide that school with that funding, they’re not saying, ‘Oh, well some people are saying I shouldn’t have received the money.’ They’re saying, ‘Thank you, because we have been suffering.’”

The IDC dissolved last month and its former members rejoined the mainline Democrats. The party, following the April 24 special elections, has a 32-31 majority over the GOP. But with state Sen. Simcha Felder (D-Brooklyn) announcing he will continue to caucus with the Republicans, as he’s done since 2012, that party will remain in control of the chamber. Peralta, speaking to the Chronicle before Felder’s decision, said, “Simcha is a hard person to read.

“Simcha is a person who keeps it close and for him, he’s always said it’s about his constituents and what his constituents will get.”

Felder, whose constituency is mostly Jewish, has tried to get yeshivas excluded from state education curriculum standards; the law requires private schools, including those of a religious nature, to provide an education equal to that of public schools.

Asked if that’s something he would be willing to give up in exchange for Felder caucusing with the Democrats, Peralta said he’d have to take a wait-and-see approach.

“I think that’s something for leadership to discuss first,” he said.

But, he added, Democrats can’t be willing to give up everything to get Felder back.

“There has to be a threshold between what we accept and what we don’t accept,” he said.

Peralta for years has pushed for the Dream Act, which would fund college scholarships for children of undocumented immigrants. But Senate Republicans have refused to bring it up for a vote and it was struck down when the senator proposed it as a hostile amendment during budget negotiations in March. Peralta’s detractors, including those who plan to run against him in September’s Democratic primary, have said the IDC helped block the passage of the Dream Act by conceding power to the GOP.

The senator, responding to that, said he’s not confident the Dream Act would pass even if the Democrats were in power now.

“Not with just 32 [members],” he said. “I think we’re going to reach 33 or 34.”

That’s because Democrats have voted against the bill in the past — in 2014, Felder and thenDemocratic state Sen. Ted O’Brien cast no votes along with every Republican.

“And the reason why Ted O’Brien didn’t want to vote for the Dream Act, afterwards he told me, it polled terribly in his district and if he would have voted for it he would lose [his election],” Peralta said. “Well guess what? He lost anyway.”

The senator touted other progressive legislation he helped pass during his time in the IDC, such as a minimum wage increase, paid family leave and a $10 million legal defense fund for the use of immigrants facing deportation. Other legislation he would like to push includes the extension and expansion of speed cameras in school zones — that is, to re-authorize the program, which sunsets in June, and increase the number of cameras.

“Studies have shown that it actually changes behavior,” said Peralta, who has lobbied for more cameras in the past.

The cameras take a picture of a car going over the speed limit in school zones and the owner is sent a ticket.

The cameras are only in some school zones, but advocates would like to see the number either doubled or expanded so they’re in every school zone.

Some have also asked for them to be operational 24/7, but Peralta said he would like to see the hours based off crash data for each specific school zone.

“For example, across the street from my office maybe the data says that most of the accidents happen between 6 and 8 p.m. so we extend it to 8,” he said, referring to The Louis Armstrong Middle School on Junction Boulevard. “But it could be different hours in different areas.”

Mayor de Blasio has also pushed to expand the program under his Vision Zero initiative. But de Blasio is unliked by Senate Republicans, and some Democrats in both chambers in Albany, and his ongoing feud with Gov. Cuomo was called “One of America’s Ugliest” by The New York Times.

The mayor has clashed with state lawmakers on issues such as MTA funding, repairs to public housing units and control of public schools.

Peralta believes that de Blasio’s unpopularity in Albany will not affect the school speed cameras.

“There’s a difference between the personality issues and what’s already on the books and what works,” he said. “It’s an existing program and it shows results.”

He’s also looking to pass the Securing Wages Earned Against Theft Act, or the SWEAT Act, which would prohibit employers from underpaying their employees for work they’ve already done.

If the Democrats take back the state Senate later this year, they will have total control of the state government.

Peralta said he doesn’t believe one-party rule in New York would lead to the “frustrations” being seen in Washington, DC, where Republicans control the White House, House of Representatives and U.S. Senate.

“I think we have been hungry for so many progressive issues that we have been able to accomplish ... and at the same time many have fallen off the table.”

He said it’s important that if the Senate turns blue that the leadership listens to all its members on district issues.

“Let’s listen to the members who represent the areas,” he said.

Peralta is being challenged by former mayoral aide Jessica Ramos, LGBTQ activist Andrea Marra and teenager Tahseen Chowdhury. The Queens Democratic Party has yet to endorse a candidate. Rep. Joe Crowley (D-Queens, Bronx), chairman of the party, told the Chronicle earlier this year IDC members had until April to rejoin the conference, or he would provide resources to their primary challengers, who have not backed down despite the IDC dissolving.

Peralta said he’s been in contact with Crowley since the reunification deal, and even before then, and is actively seeking his endorsement.

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1 comment:

  • pvrjr posted at 5:58 pm on Sat, May 5, 2018.

    pvrjr Posts: 315

    New York: The most corrupt state in the nation. [wink]