JACKSON HEIGHTS —Hundreds of people signed a petition calling on Sen. Jose Peralta to reverse his decision to join an independent group in the Senate — telling him to return to the Democrats or resign.
The petition was filed Saturday morning by Will Sweeney, a community activist and filmmaker from Jackson Heights following a town hall meeting Friday night where Peralta was grilled by residents after joining the Independent Democratic Conference.
By Monday evening, it had received more than 450 signatures.
Peralta and his team said Monday that the petition doesn't accurately represent his constituency, which includes Jackson Heights, East Elmhurst, Elmhurst and Corona, and is filled with signatures of people from elsewhere.
"Regardless of what people in South Korea and Florida might think, I will continue to defend the people of my district," he said in a statement. "I stand by my decision to join the Independent Democratic Conference more than ever, and know we’re going to have a productive legislative session."
Peralta announced he was joining the IDC, which includes seven other Democratic state senators, in late January.
He told residents that the move was sparked by the recent election of President Donald Trump and "soul searching" over the state of the Democratic party.
Councilman Danny Dromm said this week that the switch was the wrong move, and the community won't accept anything other than a return to the Democrats, but he has so far not signed the petition.
"It is not right that we have Democratic-elected officials who are conferencing with the Republicans," Dromm said. "[The IDC] is conferencing with the Republicans, and these are Republicans who have blocked an awful lot of legislation from the state senate in the past and continue to do so now."
An IDC spokeswoman denied the group conferences with Republicans, saying they conference with fellow Democrats and work "in Majority Coalition with 32 senators who elected a Republican leader, enabling IDC members to move and pass progressive legislation."
Peralta explained his position at the town hall meeting Friday at the Jackson Heights Jewish Center last week, while more than 100 more barred from entering protesting outside.
While some in attendance expressed support for Peralta, who's been in office for 14 years, the majority of people were openly critical of the move.
Peralta said he made the switch to the IDC, which acts independently but often caucuses with Republican senators, to better serve his overwhelmingly Democratic district. On Monday morning, he said at an unrelated press conference that the town hall was filled with 60 "agitators" who live outside of the district.
The tone rubbed many in his district the wrong way.
"Constituents are not agitators," Jackson Heights resident Katie Musselwhite-Goldsmith wrote on the petition.