Anti-IDC protesters to pol: Where’s our town hall?
by Benjamin Fang
May 16, 2017 | 2187 views | 0 0 comments | 105 105 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A few dozen protesters stood in the rain on Saturday afternoon to demand a town hall from State Senator Jose Peralta, who defected from the Democratic Conference to join the breakaway Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) earlier this year.

The move angered many of his constituents, some of whom called him a traitor and vowed to replace him in office. At a February town hall, Peralta committed to hosting another meeting with constituents “some time in the future” after the state budget passed.

He has not delivered on that promise yet, protesters said.

“Months later, after Senator Jose Peralta defected to the IDC, here we are still as a community with no answers,” said Shekar Krishnan, president of the New Visions Democratic Club. “Why were we betrayed and at what cost?”

Peralta was the eighth Democrat to switch to the IDC, which has a power-sharing agreement with senate Republicans. In February, he argued that by joining the group he would have a greater voice to block conservative bills and push forward progressive legislation.

The recently passed state budget included Raise the Age, an effort to raise the age of minors incarcerated at Rikers Island, and the Excelsior Scholarship, Governor Andrew Cuomo’s tuition-free college proposal. But anti-IDC protesters said on Saturday that wasn’t enough.

“We have not seen any of those promises kept,” Krishnan said. “On every single issue that we as a community in Jackson Heights care about, there has been no movement and it was not included in the state budget. The fault for that lies directly at the hands of the IDC colluding with the Republicans.

“What we got on those issues, from criminal justice to every other issue, are compromised, half-way measures that should not be happening at all in Albany, where we have numerically a democratic majority in the State Senate and the Assembly,” he added. “To throw out compromise, transactional-type legislation and say, ‘Hey Democrats, you should be happy with that,’ that’s a total affront to who we are and what we believe in.”

Protesters raised an array of issues that the state budget failed to address. Education advocates said there wasn’t enough money allocated to public schools. Krishnan, a housing attorney, said Albany still has weak tenant protections.

Susan Kang, an associate professor of political science at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, wanted the State Legislature to pass a single-payer health care bill called the New York Health Act. But protesters claim the IDC voted against it.

“Jose Peralta, by joining the IDC, is not allowing this bill to move forward,” she said. “We can't do it as long as representatives like our own are collaborating with senate Republicans.”

Kang also slammed Peralta and the IDC for stalling the Reproductive Health Act, even though all members of the IDC are co-sponsors of the legislation.

“They're never going to get a chance to vote on it,” she said. “It's going to sit there in committee.”

The Jackson Heights resident said she was also upset about not getting emergency funding for Planned Parenthood or the DREAM Act in the budget.

Honor Mosher, a Jackson Heights resident and protester, said the IDC is not progressive, despite their members repeatedly claiming the mantle.

“At a time like this, Democrats are going to be stronger united,” she said. “I have no patience for any of them, [State Senator Simcha] Felder or any of the IDC, and no one should. They need to go to a store and buy a compass.”

“How many more seats do we have to turn when we have eight Democrats conferencing with the Republicans?” she added. “They’re making it even harder, they’re making the whole situation tougher.”

Krishnan argued that if all IDC members were “true Democrats” and rejoined the Democratic Conference, they would be able to pass “amazingly progressive and strong legislation.”

When asked if Peralta would still be welcomed back into the conference after his departure, Krishnan said that’s the decision he has to make.

“It’s up to him to decide whether he’s going to do it or if this is the permanent choice he’s made,” he said. “For us, there’s no other option.”

Increasingly, anti-IDC protesters are calling for a Democratic challenger to take on Peralta in the primary in 2018.

“Every day that goes by that he does not rejoin the Democrats while his community is calling for it is another day where the community gets increasingly angry and is looking for a change in office,” Krishnan said. “As time goes by, his decision not to join the Democrats will have graver and graver consequences.”

In a statement, Peralta responded by saying that he respects everyone’s right to demonstrate and make their views known.

He alluded to the “real results” he achieved by joining the IDC, including securing grants for several community organizations and getting $10 million in state funding for legal services for New Yorkers facing deportation.

“I have not changed any of my progressive principles, but after joining the Independent Democratic Conference I was able to more effectively fight for those values that we all hold dear to our hearts,” he said. “It is my hope all of us can continue to have a constructive dialogue toward maintaining and bettering the community that we all proudly call home.”

Two weeks ago, media reports claimed members of the IDC, including Peralta, were receiving lulu’s, or stipends that typically go to elected officials leading a committee. Although Peralta and a few of his IDC colleagues only serve as vice chairs, they still received the stipend, according to reports.

In a May 13th post to his public Facebook page, Peralta said his committee stipend is $12,500, which is actually less than the $14,500 he received when he was part of the Democratic Conference’s leadership team.

He also claimed that according to the state comptroller’s office, the Senate “decides and designates who receives what stipend, which is the practice of the house and is fully permitted under state law, which is what happened here.”

Protesters like Mosher did not buy his argument.

“The GOP are not just giving it to them for nothing,” she said.

Krishnan added that the community was “shocked” to hear about the lulu’s.

“I think there are some serious questions as to the propriety of it and the legality as well,” he said. “On a basic level, these are exactly the kind of games and rule-bending in Albany that none of us want a part of, and we don’t want elected officials part of it either.”
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