Jackson Heights now officially has the "luchador," or fighter, it needs in new state Assemblyman Jose Peralta, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Saturday night.
Schumer was among the more than 20 politicians from all levels of government who welcomed Peralta into their ranks as the legislator in the newly created and largely Hispanic Jackson Heights district. Peralta, the first Latino from Queens to win a seat in the state Legislature, was sworn into office by Judge Diccia Pineda Kirwan Saturday at the New York Hall of Science in Flushing Meadows Corona Park.
Peralta, a 30-year-old Democrat, was elected as the assemblyman for the 39th District, which encompasses Jackson Heights, Elmhurst, Corona and part of Woodside. The district was added to the borough through the redistricting process, based on Census 2000 figures.
After serving as an aide to Assemblyman Brian McLaughlin (D-Flushing), an immigrant advocate, as well as a lobbyist in his Queens College days, Peralta is no stranger to the political system, or its players.
"He's duly qualified to be a member of the state Legislature," said McLaughlin, recalling a time when Peralta in his study lobbyist days caught the legislator trying to sneak out the back door to his office.
"He's grown into each and every assignment he's been given," McLaughlin said. "He's become more mature and sensitive with each assignment."
As a second-generation Dominican American, Peralta is a role model for his district, which is more than 80 percent Hispanic, Schumer said. Schumer showed off his Spanish skills, calling Peralta a "luchador" or a fighter for his people.
"He got here the old-fashioned way - he earned it," Schumer said. "It's important for the immigrant community to see that barriers can be broken before their eyes. When that happens, barriers are broken in their heads. They say, 'I can do that.'"
U.S. Rep. Joe Crowley (D-Jackson Heights), who picked up the nickname "Jose" as he helped with Peralta's campaign, said he knows the new assemblyman will be an honest advocate for his people.
"Jose knows this is not about personal gain but what he can do for his community and his constituents," Crowley said. "No monetary value is worth your good name and the office you hold. Jose Peralta knows that."
Peralta shows great promise as a politician, said Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan)
"You've elected a rising star in the Democratic Party," he said. "He's shown it already in his brief tenure of 2 1/2 weeks in the Assembly."
Other speakers included Queens Borough President Helen Marshall, City Councilman Hiram Monserrate (D-Corona), Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion and his predecessor Fernando Ferrer, and Manhattan Assemblyman Adriano Espaillat.
Peralta thanked the standing-room-only crowd for their support.
"I grew up in this neighborhood, so it's an incredible thrill for me to stand here today as your assemblyman," he said.
Off to a running start, Peralta listed education, affordable housing and the elderly as his top priorities.
"Despite tough economic times, we will continue to keep our commitment to those who made sacrifices to give the world to us," he said of Queens' seniors. "They fought for our tomorrow and now we must fight for their today."
Reach reporter Courtney Dentch by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com, or by phone at 229-0300, Ext. 138.
©2003 Community News Group
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