Jessica Ramos sat against the wall of a Colombian restaurant called Seba Seba wondering what to eat for breakfast. After ordering arepa con queso with chorizo, she prepared to talk about her goal for this year—defeating incumbent State Sen. Jose Peralta (D-Corona, East Elmhurst, Elmhurst, Jackson Heights, Woodside) in the State Democratic Senate Primary on Sept. 11.
Ramos, 32, knows the district well. She grew up in Astoria and lived in Corona, East Elmhurst, and, her current home, Jackson Heights. She served as a Democartic district leader for the 39th Assembly District, which covers neighborhoods such as Jackson Heights and Elmhurst. She even is a part of the Jackson Heights Beautification Group, an organization working to improve the neighborhood, and a member of the Queens Community Board 3.
“Out of everyone who has shown interest [in this role],” she said. “I’m the only one with deep community roots.”
Ramos recently left a position in Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration, where she worked as the head of Latino Media until she resigned in early December. She weighed a bid to take on Peralta, and last month announced her decision to run for for his seat.
In the first three weeks of January, she’s held five fundraisers, four in Senate District 13 and one in Manhattan, and raised a little over $31,000 in less than a month.
The core issue for Ramos is fair representation for residents. In 2010, Peralta won his seat as a Democrat and served in the state Senate as such until last year. He switched to the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), a breakaway group of eight Democratic lawmakers that are in a majority coalition with GOP lawmakers in senate chamber.
While Democrats technically have 30 seats against 31 held by Republicans in the state Senate, the IDC reduces Democratic control to 22 seats. Additionally, Brooklyn Democratic State Sen. Simcha Felder caucuses with the Republicans.
Ramos noted she felt disappointed when Peralta switched to the IDC after supporting his campaign in 2010.
“Having been a city government official, you tend to stay out of politics directly because government is your job,” she said. “But I did attend the town hall where so many of my neighbors made it very clear to him that running as a Democrat and having us elect him as a Democrat meant that we expected him to stay a Democrat,” she said.
Now Ramos is eager to help mainstream Democrats create a “strong defensive line” in Albany against a federal government led by Donald Trump. To do this, she is focusing on three crucial issues in her campaign—public school funding, rent reform, and improved transportation.
A few blocks from the restaurant is P.S. 69, a school her two sons attend. She felt glad of the quality of education provided, but stressed the state government owes that school—and others across the district—millions of dollars.
“If the public school funding came in at the level it should be, our schools would be doing a job above and beyond what they already do,” she said.
In addition, affordability is key for constituents in District 13. Ramos elaborated that she is interested in reforming rent guidelines, such as with preferential rent. A preferential renter herself, she offered an example people across the city face: rising housing prices.
“I pay rent at a rent-stabilized level, but, once my lease is up, my landlord could decide to hike it up to market rent. I’ve been in this particular apartment for a little more than five years. If my landlord tries to bring it back to market rent, it would be a difference of $600 or so,” she said.
Another service with lack of adequate funding is transportation. On social media, she sometimes shares pictures of problems on the 7 train. She prefers, instead of “cosmetic repairs,” investments that ensure the trains run on time without issue.
“The state says the city should give more money. The city says the state should give more money,” said Ramos. “What we need to do is have the MTA open their books and see how the funding is being spent.”
Ramos highlighted immigration as well, a personal topic in the district. In fact, Ramos is the daughter of immigrants who obtained legal status because of an amnesty law signed by Ronald Reagan in 1986.
Now she felt the time was right for ensuring New York State became a sanctuary state to expand resources, such as affordable college costs and access to state hospitals, for undocumented immigrants.
“All of those things are fantastic things that the IDC says they support. But they have created a political climate that doesn’t allow for any progressive bills that come out of committee and come to the floor for a vote,” Ramos said.
Peralta is yet to officially comment on Ramos’ campaign. Yet, in an interview with NY1 Noticias last November, he welcomed any potential challengers for his seat.
“People are going to know my record, and they will recognize I am doing the work,” he said to NY1 Noticias.
Meanwhile, Ramos anticipates the next few months full of fundraisers, door-knocking, and debates. Yet she is also planning beyond the election to help create a movement of active voters.
“I don’t want to just win the election. I want to make sure we continue to have an engaged electorate. Winning an election is not the end-all, be-all. It’s being able to govern and govern well,” said Ramos.