In a story atypical of anywhere but Albany, New York, a local state senator who defected from his political party in order to give power to the opposition (in exchange for money and power, of course) has seen a favored bill of his killed by the same opposition he gave power to.
State Senator Jose Peralta, who represents the liberal bastions of Jackson Heights, Elmhurst, and Corona, in Queens, defected to the Independent Democratic Caucus shortly after his election last year (as a Democrat). In doing so, Peralta and the IDC shift the balance of power in the senate from the Democrats (Peralta’s former party) to the Republicans, a party in opposition to much of what his political platform supports. Explaining the move at the time, Peralta said it would help him pass progressive legislation, instead of having to constantly win over the swing vote of State Senator Simcha Felder, a conservative Democrat who caucuses with the Republicans. Peralta was met with stinging criticism from his constituents, who called for his resignation. His reasoning was further hobbled by the fact that, by becoming a member of the IDC, Peralta would in turn enrich himself with bogus chairmanship money to the tune of $12,500.
Wednesday marked the end of the legislative session in New York State, and Peralta saw one of his signature “progressive” bills, a bill to put speed cameras in school zones, defeated by the party in power, the Republicans. The Republicans had tied the speed camera legislation to mayoral control of city schools, something that Majority Leader John Flanagan only wanted to renew if it meant lifting the caps on charter schools — the same charter schools whose boosters contribute gobs of cash to state Republicans. The leader of Peralta’s own IDC also rakes in lucre from those same charter school proponents.
For Peralta, the death of his bill, which on its face makes total sense and would only be opposed by heartless people who don’t care about the well-being and safety of children, was carried out by his own IDC compatriots. Peralta is insisting that the legislature will return to resolve the issue of mayoral control and speed cameras, but that’s not looking very promising.
Should we pity Jose Peralta, who misread the political tides so badly that he would theoretically be cruising to a City Council seat by now had he not defected to the IDC? No, we shouldn’t. But we should know that it’s weak politicians like him who make a place like Albany possible, a place where they can’t even put speed cameras in school zones if it means it might impact their political donations or their chairmanship money.