Sept. 5, 2018 By Tara Law
If you ask her if she is going to beat State Senator Jose Peralta in the Democratic primary next week, Jessica Ramos will answer with an unequivocal “Yes.”
To Ramos, 33, the people of the 13th District— which covers Corona, East Elmhurst, Elmhurst and Jackson Heights— will vote for her in the Sept. 13 primary because they are tired of legislators who claim to represent progressive values, but deliver “watered down” bills on issues such as affordable housing, the MTA and immigration.
And one of the politicians who is most emblematic of this problem, Ramos said, is Peralta.
Ramos argued that after Peralta joined the Independent Democratic Conference— a now-defunct faction of Democratic Senators who agreed to collaborate with Republicans— in Jan. 2017, he stopped pushing the progressive bills that he had introduced beforehand.
Ramos said Peralta failed to pass bills that he first proposed in 2013— Drivers Licenses For All, a bill which would give undocumented immigrants access to drivers licenses, and the Dream Act, which would enable undocumented students to get financial aid at state colleges.
Ramos said that she feels particularly betrayed because she helped to organize Peralta’s past campaigns. Although the IDC dissolved in April, Ramos said the “damage was done.”
Peralta, she argued, is “grossly ungrateful” for the effort that she and other progressives put in to making sure he was elected.
Ramos said that she— a seasoned organizer who has fought for unions and worked as the Director of Latino Media for Mayor Bill de Blasio— is the kind of progressive that the community needs in Albany.
If elected, Ramos said that she will focus on the issues that she feels that Peralta and Albany have neglected— reforming the MTA, securing funding for schools and addressing the cost of living.
Ramos said that her platform is informed by the struggles she’s faced in her everyday life— working to afford housing, experiences of MTA delays and the lack of appropriate supplies at her children’s school.
One of the pivotal moments that motivated her to run, Ramos said, was being stuck on the 7 train for a two hours during a delay.
Chatting with the people around her, she said that she realized that subway delays have a huge personal and financial impact on many people.
She said that her conversation with one woman, who is a retail worker, particularly stood out.
“If she’s late a couple of hours, her pay is docked. And that to me really put the transit crisis into perspective for me,” said Ramos.
As a senator, Ramos said that she would end the MTA’s designation as an authority, which currently enables the organization to function relatively autonomously. Instead, she would make the MTA a state agency to increase the state’s oversight.
“The MTA is pretty much fully funded through our tax dollars. But since it’s technically not a state agency, we are not allowed to provide oversight and make sure that it’s held accountable,” Ramos said.
Ramos said that she’s in favor of finding new sources of funding for the MTA— such as a millionaire’s tax and congestion pricing for vehicles driving into Manhattan— but that the state must ensure that such funds are actually invested in the City.
Another major state misstep, said Ramos, is the state’s participation in the federal Opportunity Zone Program.
Under the program, investors who contribute to a “qualified opportunity fund,” which invests in an “economically-distressed community,” receive federal tax benefits on their investment.
Ramos argued that the program promotes luxury development in these zones and called it an “excuse for [developers and investors] to continue getting tax breaks on our backs.”
Instead, Ramos would push the state to expand community land trusts, nonprofit corporations which would develop affordable housing and civic buildings on behalf of the community.
Ramos said that she believes in land trusts “because the community would get to decide what gets to be built and how it gets to be built.”
Ramos said she would particularly like to see more schools constructed.
She described the state as “negligent” for failing to provide schools with $4 billion in Foundation Aid that it pledged following a 2006 New York Court of Appeals decision, which found that New York was underfunding its school system.
Ramos noted that she knows from experience that funding schools is difficult. Several years ago, she worked with the state to secure funding for the Pre-K For All program.
“I cannot tell you how difficult it was to try and get Albany on board to help us fund pre-K,” said Ramos. “And this is with a Democratic governor. It shouldn’t be this hard if your governor is a Democrat.”
As the district is overwhelmingly Democratic, Ramos would almost certainly win in the general election if she defeats Peralta in the primary. Given that, she said she would spend time the lead up to November working in other districts to help Democratic candidates.
“I want a real Democratic majority in the State Senate,” Ramos said.