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Political newcomers battle for new district

Increasing immigrant services, cleaning up streets, improving safety and reducing class sizes are top priorities for both the Democratic and Republican candidates for the newly created 39th state Assembly District, which encompasses Jackson Heights, Elmhurst, Corona and part of Woodside.     

The two candidates differ, however, in their areas of expertise, which they will draw upon to implement their ideas.

Democratic candidate Jose R. Peralta, 30, is a Dominican-American who works as an immigrant advocate for the New York City Central Labor Council. He grew up in Corona, attending public schools PS 14, IS 61, Flushing High School and Queens College. Active in government for the last eight years, he has worked for several local politicians including Assemblyman Brian McLaughlin (D-Flushing).

    “We need somebody who knows the issues of the community and has participated within the district, as opposed to coming from other places and trying to ride on the coattails of (Gov. George) Pataki,” Peralta said.

    Peralta helped to found several local organizations, including the Dominican-American Society, a social services agency; the Grand Alliance, an organization to bring political influence into the community; and the Inter-American Parliament, a civic group that concentrates on quality-of-life issues.

    As an immigrant advocate, Peralta has worked to bring the Immigration and Naturalization Services, the Department of Labor, lawyers and social service organizations to his home district to help educate immigrants about their rights. He hopes to create safe places, possibly at churches, where day laborers can wait for drive-by contractors to offer them jobs.

    “Queens is the mega-hub of immigrants,” Peralta said. “A lot of people come here to live the American dream.”

    Republican Charley S. Gonzales, 56, immigrated to the United States from the Philippines in 1965. He served in the U.S. Navy for 9 1/2 years and in the U.S. Army Reserve for 2 1/2 years. He has lived in Jamaica for the past 32 years, and worked as a real estate broker in Elmhurst for more than 21 years. His two grown children attended private Catholic school and St. John’s University in Queens.

    “Fifteen years ago, we were talking about Filipino empowerment and how we could do it, but it was all just talk,” said Gonzales, who has served as an activist for the Filipino community. “Now it’s the right moment for me to say, ‘OK, I’ll do it.’ ”

    As district governor of the Lion’s Club International, a service organization that serves the needy, Gonzales helped to organize many volunteer activities. He hopes to use the connections he has formed at the Lion’s Club and as a real estate broker to create a volunteer office, where professionals such as lawyers, doctors and nurses could offer their services to immigrants and elderly people.

    “I know a lot of people who want to volunteer their time,” Gonzales said. “That’s what I envision.”

    Both Gonzales and Peralta hope to improve sanitation and safety in their districts. Peralta promises to advocate for an increased number of pickups and garbage bins. He also proposes issuing summonses to those who litter, and establishing business improvement districts.

    Gonzales hopes to increase safety by increasing the number of foot policemen in the area, and by increasing civilian patrol.

    In recent years, safety in the area has declined, in part because policemen in the 115th Precinct are called away from their area to deal with crimes in other areas, Peralta said.

    On the issue of education, both candidates said new schools were needed to ease the overcrowded classrooms, which were a major problem in the district. Peralta proposed that funding for the schools might come from a commuter tax, or from the lottery system.

    Both candidates seemed confident about their chances of winning.

    “The Democrats there (in the district) are 5-to-1,” Peralta said. “But that doesn’t mean we’re going to sleep.”

    Gonzales said he was very busy campaigning door-to-door and in the streets.

    “Definitely, I have a good chance of winning,” he said. “But I heard my opponent is very strong.”


    Reach reporter Tien-Shun Lee by e-mail at, or call 229-0300, Ext. 155.

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