A truly Special Election in Queens

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Photo Courtesy of Peralta Campaign
Assemblymember Jose Peralta said his campaign was galvanized after volunteers and supporters spent the weekend campaigning for him.Photo Courtesy of Peralta Campaign
Assemblymember Jose Peralta said his campaign was galvanized after volunteers and supporters spent the weekend campaigning for him.

Special Elections are usually under-the-radar, low-turnout races that only receive a small amount of attention in the days leading up to the election.

However, the March 16 Special Election between former State Senator Hiram Monserrate and Assemblymember Jose Peralta looks like it could defy conventional wisdom.

“I think more people know about this Special Election than any other Special Election that has been held,” Monserrate told The Queens Courier, inside a Jackson Heights restaurant after a press conference on Monday, March 1.

Monserrate, who is still challenging the legality of the Special Election with an appeal in federal court that has oral arguments scheduled for March 12, is trying to reclaim the Senate seat he was expelled from on February 9. The Senate voted to expel him by a 53-8 margin.

Meanwhile, Peralta, who has represented Queens in the Assembly since 2002, called his campaign “galvanized” and said he has many volunteers who have already begun knocking on doors, greeting voters at train stops and making phone calls on his behalf.

“Many of the registered voters are excited about the potential of change in the 13th Senatorial District,” Peralta said in an interview on March 1, inside City Coffee, a small coffee shop on 37th Avenue and 77th Street. “Many of these registered voters are really looking forward to this.”

Peralta, who announced that he would run for the Senate seat in October of last year, after a Queens judge found Monserrate guilty of one count of misdemeanor assault on his girlfriend Karla Giraldo, is largely seen as the favorite in the March Special Election, which will also include Republican nominee Robert Beltrani. Peralta has a large campaign war chest on hand to spend on the campaign, the backing of the Queens Democratic Party and numerous other elected officials throughout the state.

However, Monserrate, who considers himself the underdog, has the support of many loyal community members and does not seem fazed by the uphill challenge ahead of him.

“I am not swayed one inch by the endorsement of political bosses and elected officials who don’t live in this community,” Monserrate said. “I am not swayed one bit by career politicians who want to decide and select someone with a minimal record against mine. I am only concerned with one thing…this community who has on more than one occasion voted for me, and that is the only endorsement I need.”

The two political rivals, who have been representing parts of western Queens as city and state elected officials since 2002, have had a hot and cold relationship during the years, according to people familiar with both camps.

“I would say the only time that it’s been cold is because of his actions,” Monserrate said. “I have never done anything overtly or covertly against him. I have supported him. He wouldn’t be in the Assembly today if I didn’t support him in 2002.”

Peralta, who acknowledged he voted for Monserrate for the State Senate in 2008, said he voted for “the old Hiram,” and he noticed a change in Monserrate’s progressive agenda shortly after he made the jump from the City Council to the State Senate.

“We thought he was going to bring that type of progressiveness into the NY Senate and instead what he did was he turned it around and took it for personal political gain with the coup situation and really let down and abandoned the community,” Peralta said.

Now, the two will spend the next two weeks campaigning on the same street corners and subway stops trying to cull votes from the same people – many who have likely voted for both candidates during the last few elections.

“It’s been an overwhelmingly [positive] response,” Peralta said. “Voters have been saying, ‘yes we’ll be there. We’ll come out and we’ll vote for you.’”