On a cold night in February 2017, Queens State Senator Jose Peralta held a town hall meeting in Jackson Heights, looking to soothe over relations with his incensed constituents. They were angry that the eight-year incumbent had joined the Independent Democratic Conference, and called him a "traitor." Jessica Ramos, a community organizer and City Hall staffer from Queens, was in the crowd. Almost a year-and-a-half later, she was celebrating her ten-point victory over Peralta in the 2018 Democratic primary at Barriles Restaurant on 37th Avenue in Jackson Heights.
In her speech to the raucous and overflowing restaurant, Ramos said that the community had decided that “it needed to make sure that we were making a statement that we couldn’t accept a turncoat democrat as our state senator.” But, she also added, it was about more than just reunifying the senate’s Democrats, it was about reforming it as well.
“We need to show we’re taking money out of politics, that we’re building a people-powered movement, and sending a strong message that if we do the work we can make change possible,” the 33-year-old told the crowd of supporters. Ramos ran on a platform of fixing the city’s ailing transit system, pushing for single-payer health care in the state, and reforming the state’s rent laws to stop the glut of evictions and displacement in New York City.
Lefrak City tenant and Ramos volunteer Aisha Gomez could hardly catch her breath following the announcement that Ramos had won.
“I got interested in this race because I received so many MCI [Major Capital Improvement] charges, I had no idea where they were coming from,or how to fix them,” Gomez told Gothamist. “After a lot of investigation I found that my state senator had done very little to push against these types of increases. He was doing nothing for us.”
Now, Ramos is set to join a senate Democratic conference that will be far more progressive than its previous iteration, but will still most likely face tremendous resistance from the governor — emboldened by his thirty point victory over leftist challenger Cynthia Nixon. Over lunch the day before the election, Ramos talked about creating an “activist” district, that will stay vocal outside of election season, helping to make legislation as progressive as possible.
“We’ll keep each other honest,” Ramos said of the many activist and community groups that have coalesced to support her campaign. She said she’s prepared to hold a series of town halls on how to make Northern Boulevard safer, and how to get the state to finally accept responsibility for the MTA and improve rapidly deteriorating service along the overcrowded 7 train.
As the City Council speaker and Comptroller made appearances to celebrate Ramos’s victory, the stunning repudiation of the IDC was taking hold across the state—from John Liu’s victory in deep Queens over Tony Avella, to IDC head Jeff Klein’s loss to Alessandra Biaggi in the Bronx and Westchester, a confusing and ineffective era in the state senate was nearing its end. Now, the challenge lies in translating progressive energy to actual legislation in Albany, a place where the hopes of voters always seems to suffocate in the airless halls of the legislature.
For now, two separate nights along 37th avenue in Jackson Heights will seem forever connected. The night Jose Peralta found out just how badly he’d angered his district, and the night he was booted from office, a packed restaurant chanting “vamos Ramos” as a new state senator looks to capture the left’s simmering energy.