NY State Sen. Jose Peralta dies at 47
By KENNETH LOVETT , RIKKI REYNA and MICHAEL GARTLAND
ALBANY: State Sen. Jose Peralta, the first Dominican-American ever elected to the state Senate, died Wednesday (21 November) night at age 47 — and his wife says a mysterious infection may be to blame.
Evelyn Peralta on Thursday told the Daily News an autopsy is being performed — and all that’s known now is that her husband had what initially appeared to be a minor ear irritation in the days before his death.
“We don’t know what infection it was, if it was meningitis or something,” she said. “The hospital was surprised too. He’d had an ear infection, something in his ear that was bothering him for a while.”
Her husband still had a fever while at home Wednesday with their 13-year-old son and his wife, she said. He suddenly grew disoriented, prompting her to call 911.
“I called the ambulance and they took him in,” she said. “The rest he just, he took a turn for the worst.”
Peralta had also been suffering some symptoms of a cold or a minor illness for a few days, she said.
“He was complaining of pressure in his head, and shortness of breath. But he went to the doctor and they didn’t find anything. Everything was normal,” she said. “The day before [on Tuesday] he developed a fever, but everyone develops a fever, so he just thought he was getting sick.”
The widow put on a brave face as she spoke about her husband, who also has a 21-year-old son from a prior relationship. She said the family had been planning to celebrate this Thanksgiving at her sister’s New Jersey home.
“My father hasn’t been feeling well either so we wanted to spend time with him,” she said. “I guess they’ll just organize everything here. We’ll just stay together.”
His passing prompted an outpouring of emotional remembrances from political allies as well as former foes Thursday. Gov. Cuomo described him as tireless in his efforts to help the Queens residents he represented.
“Senator Peralta was a dedicated public servant, a relentless advocate for Queens and a pioneer,” Gov. Cuomo said in a statement. “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. This is a reminder of how precious life is — hold your families a little bit closer today as we think about all we are thankful for.”
Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, who clashed with Peralta last year when he left the Senate’s Democratic caucus for the Independent Democratic Conference, described Peralta’s sudden death as “heartbreaking.”
“This news is truly shocking,” Stewart-Cousins tweeted. “My deepest condolences go out to Senator Jose Peralta’s family and friends. He will always be part of the Senate family.”
Peralta was remembered by City Councilman Francisco Moya as someone with a kind and gentle public persona, but also as a “fierce fighter … for the people whom he dedicated his life to representing.”
“At the end of the day, his decisions were always motivated by a drive to bring his community everything it deserved,” Moya tweeted. “Jose will be greatly missed.”
The two teamed up in 2011 to stop the use of “chica chica” cards, which served as advertisements for prostitutes in Corona and Jackson Heights.
Sen. Michael Gianaris, a Democrat who’s Queens district abutted Peralta’s, tweeted that his death was “tragic news.”
“My heart goes out to his family,” Gianaris wrote.
Republican state Sen. Marty Golden in a tweet called Peralta “a great man who gave his all to the community he served and New York State. May God bless and comfort his family.”
Peralta joined the Senate in March 2010 after winning a special election. Representing Jackson Heights, Corona, Elmhurst, and Woodside, he was re-elected four times.
He angered many in his own party in January 2017 when he defected from the mainstream Senate Democratic conference to become the eighth member of the breakaway IDC, which was aligned in a leadership coalition with the chamber’s Republicans.
Peralta and his fellow Independent Democratic Conference members returned to the fold in April. But it wasn’t enough to save him politically as he lost a September primary to Jessica Ramos, who went on to win the November general election.
“When I met him in 2003 I saw a world of promise for our community,” Ramos tweeted. “I know in his heart he loved his community. He was a true public servant. Strength & love to his wife, sons, and loved ones.”
Before serving in the Senate, Peralta, a Queens College graduate, was a state assemblyman, having first been elected in 2002.
“He was a good guy. A lot of people knew him. They appreciated what he did for the community,” said his wife. “He was very loved.”
Peralta leaves behind his wife and two sons.
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