What are those New York City Democrats doing allied to the party of President Trump?
That’s what a growing number of constituents for three state senators are wondering since the pols moved to break away from mainstream Dems and join a conference allied to majority Republicans in Albany.
Queens voters voiced their anger on Friday night at the Jewish Center of Jackson Heights, where some 200 people came to grill state Sen. Jose Peralta about his recent decision to join a group of renegades called the Independent Democratic Conference.
“Your constituents are angry. We are probably going to vote you out,” said Jenny Dubnau, 53, of Jackson Heights.
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Peralta held the town hall at the urging of constituents like Dubnau, an artist, who have been furious since Peralta joined the IDC on Jan. 25.
The move came as anti-Trump protests have become a constant in the city, and many audience members accused Peralta of empowering the President’s supporters in Albany.
“(Trump’s) going to do voter suppression and the only people who can protect our state is you guys. And you just aligned yourself with his biggest supporters,” Joan Halligan-Wang, 54, of East Elmhurst said to applause.
Peralta insisted by having a coalition with Republicans, the IDC will be able to stop Republican efforts to help Trump policies loathed by city progressives.
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Struggling through frequent interruptions, he began the night by explaining why he decided to join the IDC in the first place.
He pointed to the group’s work passing stricter gun control, universal pre-k for New York City and minimum wage increases, among other accomplishments, since the group allied with Republicans in 2012.
“The only thing that I’m asking you to do is to keep an open mind,” Peralta said. “In two years, you will have an opportunity to do what you choose to. But for those two years, I ask you to keep an open mind.”
Dozens who couldn’t get into the town hall remained outside, chanting slogans like, “No Trump! No GOP! No goddamn IDC!” A handful of people held signs in support of Peralta and the coalition.
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State elections aren’t for another two years, but Queens Democratic Party leaders are already talking about finding a challenger for Peralta’s seat. Rep. Joe Crowley of Queens has increasingly voiced his anger over Peralta’s move to join the IDC.
He railed against the senator, though not by name, at a dinner for Queens Dems last week, according to a Democratic source.
“Crowley went really hard. (He said) this is unacceptable, especially in this era,” the source said. “We can't have Queens Dems going to the IDC and empowering Republicans, and we’re going to make that loud and clear. And that place went crazy.”
Other new members of the eight-strong IDC are coming under pressure, too. Brooklyn state Sen. Jesse Hamilton and Upper Manhattan state Sen. Marisol Alcantara joined the group in the fall.
One of Alcantara’s politically active constituents said she wants the senator to hold a public forum — once the voter can take a break from protests on issues like Trump’s immigration order.
“People in our neighborhood are shocked that this could have happened,” Lynn Max, 71, of the Upper West Side said of Alcantara’s decision to join the IDC.
Alcantara said she’s worked to answer constituents’ questions about the IDC at every opportunity.
The Latina senator said she found recent criticism of her, Hamilton, who is black, and Peralta, who is Latino, racist. The other five members of the IDC are white.
“I think it’s like a racist statement that they are questioning the three people of color and they always bring up money,” Alcantara said in a phone interview, pointing to reports of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions she received from the IDC.
She also echoed Peralta’s assertion that being allied to Republicans puts the IDC in a stronger position to block their efforts to support Trump.
Republican senators recently proposed a bill requiring colleges to collect info on foreign-born students, a move Peralta plans to fight.
“It's horrible. First thing I did was call (state Sen.) Jeff Klein and talk to my other colleagues,” she said, referencing the IDC’s leader. “We have issues in regard to immigration.”
Trump’s presidency is giving mainstream Democrats new ammunition for their long-standing claim that the best way for the IDC’s members to reach progressive goals would be by rejoining the main conference. Republicans would still have a functioning majority by one vote.
“Anyone that decides to prop up pro-Trump Republicans will be on the wrong side of history,” Senate Democratic spokesperson Mike Murphy said in a statement. “We need Democrats that actually care about Democratic values and not just personal or political perks,” he added, making a dig at Alcantara’s and Hamilton’s chairmanships of the labor and banks committees, respectively.
State Sen. Diane Savino, an early member of the IDC, rejected Murphy’s criticism. But she said Peralta’s town hall showed IDC members have work to do explaining the purpose of the coalition.
“It’s clear that we have an opportunity now to reconnect with voters in a way we can educate them more and really get them involved in things that really matter on the state level,” the Staten Island senator said.
Albany watchers view the recent additions of Peralta and company as a sign the IDC is here to stay. That seemed fine with a number of the Friday town hall’s attendees.
“All these people in this room don’t find a solution. Mr. Peralta is trying to find a solution,” said Julian Garfield, 51, of East Elmhurst.Send a Letter to the Editor