Congressional leadership pushed IDC-Dem unity: Peralta
by Benjamin Fang
Apr 26, 2018 | 246 views | 0 0 comments | 0 0 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Fifteen months ago, State Senator Jose Peralta made a career-altering decision that shocked the political world. He joined the breakaway Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), a group of eight Democrats in the State Senate that had a power-sharing coalition with Republicans. In the weeks that followed Peralta’s defection from the mainline Democrats, angry constituents demanded that he host a town hall to discuss his decision. Peralta explained that with President Donald Trump in the White House, and his immigrant-heavy district as “ground zero” for attacks, he wanted “a seat at the table” to influence policy and budget. “We knew he was going to hone in on my district,” he said, referring to Trump, during a meeting with this paper. “What was I going to be able to do about it when I was in the minority?” He expressed “a level of frustration” at the mainline Democrats because they had no path to a majority. According to the state senator, though the IDC disagreed eight out of 10 times with their Republican counterparts, they were still able to push for progressive legislation. Some of those accomplishments include raising the age on criminal responsibility, the $15 minimum wage, a $10 million legal defense fund for undocumented immigrants and paid family leave. Peralta also brought home $18 million in school funding for his district, and an additional $5 million that he dispersed to local schools and nonprofits for various capital projects. “There’s no way it would’ve happened with me being in the minority,” he said. The backlash was immediate. Constituents and even elected officials hosted multiple rallies, first calling on him to rejoin the mainline Democrats. But when it was clear Peralta would not return, many wanted him ousted altogether. Three candidates have emerged as primary challengers, all of whom cite the IDC as a reason why they are running. Peralta said he wasn’t surprised by the response. “In this business, you can’t please everybody,” he said. “If you try to please everybody, you’re going to go insane in politics. You just can’t do it, it’s impossible.” The state senator, who now lives in Jackson Heights, said he received even bigger backlash when he voted for marriage equality in 2011. Peralta said he couldn’t even go to his own church in Corona “for a long time.” The priest at the time even called him out for voting in favor of marriage equality. “Catholics would look at me and say, ‘How dare you,’” Peralta said. “Or, don’t show your face at church.” Peralta acknowledged that even after joining the IDC, there were progressive bills that never passed. The Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA), early voting, codifying abortion rights in Roe v. Wade and the Child Victims Act are some of the issues he said he would pass if he was in the majority. He would even push for the closing of the LLC loophole, though Peralta doesn’t think Governor Andrew Cuomo would sign off on it. Above all, Peralta said his main priority is passing the DREAM Act, which would give undocumented students in New York access to financial aid. Even before joining the IDC, Peralta was the main sponsor of the bill. Though the IDC-Republican coalition never put the DREAM Act up for a vote, including a recently failed hostile amendment attempt in this year’s budget negotiations, Peralta pointed to previous failures to pass the bill. In 2014, the DREAM Act failed by two votes. Two Democrats, including Brooklyn State Senator Simcha Felder, voted against it. “My own party killed the DREAM Act on the floor,” Peralta said. “I had to go back and re-negotiate with them.” The bill was never put up again due to “fighting within my own party,” he said. Peralta figured it was time to try another option to pass the legislation: joining the IDC. Privately, some Republicans told Peralta they would support the bill, he said. Joining the IDC coalition meant he could at least test that option. Despite passing a $10 million legal defense fund to protect vulnerable immigrants, Republicans never let the IDC push the DREAM Act forward. “My job is to exhaust all possibilities so I can deliver for my constituents,” Peralta said. “I exhausted that.” Fifteen months after joining the IDC, Peralta’s experiment has come to an end. In early April, Cuomo sat down with Jeff Klein, leader of the IDC, and Andrea Stewart-Cousins, leader of the mainline Democrats. Together, they announced a unity deal that would dissolve the IDC back into the Democratic conference. Under the terms of the deal, Stewart-Cousins would be the sole leader of the Democrats, while Klein would be her deputy. After years of infighting and finger-pointing, how did this peace treaty form? Peralta explained that the stars “kind of aligned” to make it happen. A month and a half ago, Democratic congressional leadership, including Congressman Joseph Crowley from Queens and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi from California, urged Democrats to take back not only the House of Representatives, but also the New York State Senate. “They got involved,” Peralta said about congressional Democrats. “Because now is the time.” Cuomo got on board with Democratic unity, followed by Bronx county leader Marcos Crespo and Brooklyn county leader Frank Seddio. The “last piece of the pie” was labor leaders, including 32BJ, Hotel Trades Council, 1199SEIU and the Transport Workers Union (TWU). “All of them decided, we’re focused not only on taking back the House, but we got to take back the State Senate,” Peralta said. “All of them were saying the same thing. That hasn’t happened in 50 years.” Klein then met with the IDC members to discuss their options. They all decided the best decision was to “bite the bullet” and unify with the mainline Democrats. “We went through the options and everybody came to the same conclusion,” Peralta said. “In the interest of the greater good, if everyone’s coming together, who are we to stop that? We should take a step back. “That means temporarily we’ll be in the minority again,” he added. “But it’s for the greater good come either after the special election, or come November, we’ll be back in the majority because we took a step back to do this.” The IDC announced their decision in a big steakhouse meeting in Manhattan. Peralta said Stewart-Cousins was not expecting the IDC’s decision, so she had to take the 24 hours to talk it over with her members. Ultimately, all parties agreed on Democratic unity in the State Senate. In September, Peralta will face three challengers in the Democratic Primary: Jessica Ramos, a former de Blasio aide, Andrea Marra, a prominent LGBT activist and Tahseen Chowdhury, a student leader at Stuyvesant High School. All have campaigned on Peralta’s defection to the now-dissolved IDC. The election will likely be the toughest race for Peralta since his special election victory in 2010 against Hiram Monserrate. He expects anywhere between 18,000 and 20,000 people to vote in this year’s election. “I take all challenges seriously,” Peralta said. “This is no exception.” Peralta was recently spotted speaking at a Democratic club associated with Monserrate, raising a few eyebrows. When asked to explain why, the state senator said the club had organized an event to honor local women. Some of the honorees asked Peralta to show up for support. Given an opportunity to “say a few words,” Peralta congratulated the women for their awards and discussed issues about LaGuardia Airport, the elections changes at LeFrak City and the IDC. “For me, my relationship is with my voters,” he said. “If my voters are going to be in a room, that’s where I’m at.”
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Maspeth residents speak in favor of one-way streets
by Benjamin Fang
Apr 26, 2018 | 342 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Proposed one-way conversions in the residential area near the Maspeth-Woodside border have divided the community. While some neighbors oppose the one-way streets, citing speeding as a major concern, other residents are backing the Department of Transportation (DOT) plan. Ryan Chen, who lives on 72nd Place and Calamus Avenue, said in a phone interview that he supports the one-way conversions because they would make his neighborhood safer. He argued that with a one-way, there would be half as many cars on the road, leading to fewer conflicts with pedestrians or other motorists. With the emergence of apps like Google Maps and Waze, more and more drivers and truckers are using the side streets from 71st to 74th streets to avoid traffic-heavy Grand Avenue. “Our streets are very narrow. Our neighborhood, which was once quiet, is now a shortcut for other motorists,” Chen said. “We can’t pick convenience over safety.” According to DOT’s crash data, there have been 35 injuries and no fatalities in the study area since 2012. But Chen, who requested data from the 104th Precinct, was told by the traffic safety unit that there have been 119 accidents in the vicinity since 2015. The Maspeth resident said that number of accidents alone are enough reason to advocate for change. Opponents of the one-way conversions have argued that one-way streets invite speeding, which is even more dangerous. They say two-way streets, like the current conditions, force drivers to slow down and allow oncoming cars to pass by. But Chen, like other residents in favor of the conversion, said drivers will speed in either scenario. “You’re not going to stop people from speeding,” he said. “If you’re so worried about speeders, put up some speed bumps.” Like Chen, other neighbors argued that most streets in surrounding communities have one-way streets. Chen said it wasn’t fair their area hasn’t been converted yet. One block within the study area, 70th Street, has already been converted to a one-way. Chen said since the change, there have been fewer cars and accidents, including sideswipes or mirror damages. “Every block should get converted,” Chen said. Guo Zhong Wu, who has lived on 72nd Street for the last four years, noted the increase in population in the area. He said that means more cars are parking on the streets, making the two-way roads tough to drive and turn onto. “When there’s a car double-parked, just to get around it is difficult,” Wu said in Mandarin, which Chen translated. “Definitely a safety issue, the way it is now.” Wu added that when a snowstorm strikes New York City, the two-way roads make it difficult for snow plows to get through and clear the streets. “With a one-way, you only have to worry about one direction,” he said. The plan is still being discussed by Community Board 5, which has yet to take a vote on the topic. DOT has previously stated that they will look to the board for a determination on which streets, if any, are converted.
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Girls break down gender barriers, join Cub Scouts
by Meghan Sackman
Apr 26, 2018 | 306 views | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
For years, Grace Gaffney and her friends would attend Cub Scout meetings at Saint Charles on Staten Island because their brothers were members. They would sit on the sidelines and watch as their brothers engaged in physical activities and earned badges for their achievements. But once a decision was made to let girls join the Cub Scouts, Grace and her friends jumped at the opportunity to finally be a part of it all. “I joined because I like going on hikes, I sometimes go on the camping trips, I like to roast marshmallows and because I’m mostly here playing around too,” said Grace, who hopes to one day attain the rank of Eagle Scout. “I may as well join and win awards and do all the cool things. Girls can do anything they want to do.” Leila Nunez also took advantage of the opportunity to join. “I thought it was cool to go camping and set up tents and learn how to do all the stuff the boys do,” she said. While the national group that oversees the Scouts okayed the admittance of girls, the decision on whether to do so was up to each individual pack leader. For Pack 88, the first in the city to allow girls, there were no hesitations . “This was a very natural progression,” said committee chairperson Brianna Gonzalez said. “They were thrilled that they could finally actually earn what their brothers were earning. It was just such an easy transition, and they’re good. They work just as hard, if not harder.” Some of the girls, including Grace, participate in Girls Scouts as well. Girl Scouts offers more camaraderie and indoor activities, while the Cub Scouts focus more on physical accomplishments and preparedness for the world. “I like the fact that she learns how to handle herself,” said Grace's mother, Therese Gratto. “Times are different now and she has to learn how to handle herself in groups of people, in the outdoors, walking around the woods, walking around the street. She’s got to learn everyday life.” Grace’s father, Cub master Joe Gaffney, is very excited about the opportunities his daughter will receive. “I think it’s great, they’re having a lot of fun doing the activities, they enjoy doing the hikes,” he said. “We were out hiking in the rain a couple of weeks ago, and Grace even had to lead the hike herself.”
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RIGHT THE WRONG PLEASE!
RIGHT THE WRONG PLEASE!
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