José Peralta, First Dominican-American Elected to New York State Senate, Dies at 47

An obituary by Jeffery C. Mays for The New York Times.

José R. Peralta, the first Dominican-American elected to the New York State Senate, died on Wednesday night. He was 47.

He was taken to Elmhurst Hospital Center in Queens after becoming disoriented following a two-week illness, but the cause of death had not yet been determined, a staff member said.

Mr. Peralta, a Democrat, lost his re-election bid in September after serving eight years in the State Senate representing a diverse swath of Queens.

A member of a group that caucused with Republicans, Mr. Peralta was defeated by a Democratic insurgent riding a progressive wave, and he was set to leave office at the end of next month.

Mr. Peralta was first elected to the State Senate in 2010 in a special election, defeating Hiram Monserrate, who was expelled from the Senate after being convicted of assaulting his companion.

As a lawmaker, Mr. Peralta was a champion of the Dream Act, legislation that would allow undocumented immigrants to qualify for college tuition assistance. He also introduced bills to legalize hoverboards in the city and to extend the length of time that speed cameras are used in school zones.

Mr. Peralta, a resident of Queens for three decades, attended public schools in the borough and graduated from Queens College, where he studied psychology and sociology and served as student body president.

He began his political career as a Queens community liaison to the State Assembly. He went on to win a seat in the Assembly, and he served in the lower house for eight years.

Mr. Peralta’s campaign to become Queens borough president was derailed in 2013 when he was recorded by a state legislator who was an informant for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Mr. Peralta was not charged or accused of wrongdoing.

José Rafael Peralta was born on Nov. 10, 1971, in New York City, to parents who had emigrated from the Dominican Republic.

He had been ill for at least two weeks, but had been reluctant to visit a doctor, according to Chris Sosa, his director of communications. After much prodding he finally went for an exam recently, and he had a follow-up scheduled for December.

“It was like pulling teeth to get him to talk about not feeling well,” Mr. Sosa said. “He just thought he was having symptoms related to getting the flu shot.”

Mr. Peralta was at home with his family on Wednesday night when he became disoriented. He was taken to the hospital, where he died at 9:23 p.m., Mr. Sosa said. An autopsy is scheduled.

As the news of Mr. Peralta’s death began to spread on Thursday morning, his colleagues took to Twitter to praise and remember him.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo called him “a dedicated public servant” and a “relentless advocate” for Queens:

I am deeply saddened by the sudden passing of Senator Jose Peralta. Senator Peralta was a dedicated public servant, a relentless advocate for Queens and a pioneer as the first Dominican American elected to the New York State Senate. My thoughts and prayers are with his family.

“As a member of the Assembly for eight years and then as senator, he fought tirelessly to make a difference for others, and he will always be remembered for his service to Queens and to all New Yorkers,” Mr. Cuomo said in a statement.

On Twitter, Adriano D. Espaillat, who was the first Dominican-American elected to Congress, called Mr. Peralta a “loving husband & brother who adored and protected his family.”

“Jose Peralta was a proud son of Queens and the Dominican Republic. He worked his way up from the grass roots, with heart and tenacity,” Mayor Bill de Blasio wrote on Twitter.

Mr. Peralta lost the Democratic primary for re-election to Jessica Ramos by 10 percentage points, for a seat representing the diverse neighborhoods of Jackson Heights, Corona, Elmhurst, East Elmhurst and portions of Woodside and Astoria.

His defeat was fueled by anger against his participation in the Independent Democratic Conference, a group of breakaway Democrats who caucused with Republicans, effectively giving Republicans control of the Senate and preventing the passage of legislation such as stricter gun control laws and protections for women’s reproductive rights.

The group disbanded in April, but six of the eight former members of the I.D.C. lost primary challenges as part of a wave of progressive politics that swept the country, particularly New York.

Ms. Ramos, on Twitter, said that while she disagreed with Mr. Peralta on many issues, she had no doubt that he loved his community.

View image on Twitter

José Peralta is gone too soon. When I met him in 2003 I saw a world of promise for our community & though years later we’d disagree on tackling the issues, I know in his heart he loved his community. He was a true public servant. Strength & love to his wife, sons, and loved ones.

Mr. Peralta had still been serving his Queens constituents even after losing the primary, said Tom Musich, Mr. Peralta’s campaign spokesman. Mr. Peralta’s Twitter feed shows him giving out turkeys at his office and promoting flu shots.

“He never stopped working. He was still doing stuff for the community,” Mr. Musich said. “A lot of people, after they lose, they don’t keep doing the work.”

View image on Twitter
View image on Twitter

Thank you Senator Peralta for supporting our community this Thanksgiving Season. #Elmhurst #Corona @NYPD110PCTCC @SenatorPeralta @NYPDQueensNorth

Michael Morrison, who worked as Mr. Peralta’s director of operations for 15 years, said he learned how much Mr. Peralta valued family while working with him.

Mr. Peralta is survived by his wife, Evelyn, and two sons, Myles, 13, and Matthew, 21.

“When my husband was dying of cancer he let me work from home and spend our last hours together,” Mr. Morrison said. “I just wish Evelyn and the kids peace.”

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