JACKSON HEIGHTS — It was standing-room only inside the Jackson Heights Jewish Center Monday for a community town hall meeting that included discussions on education, bail reform and Sanctuary Cities.
Each speaker was held to a five-minute time limit, and microphones were passed around the audience for questions. The front table featured name cards of the guests: Erin George from JustLeadershipUSA, Kenneth Shelton from Black Lives Matter, Mazeda Uddin from South Asian Fund for Education and state Sen. Jose Peralta.
The only one missing was the person in whose name the entire meeting was organized around.
The event, called "Where is Peralta?" was put together by a long list of local groups with the goal of holding Sen. Jose Peralta to a promise he made at a town hall in February to hold another meeting when the state budget passed.
The February meeting was organized by the senator's office following his surprise move to the Independent Democratic Conference, and he faced angry residents who called him a "traitor."
Organizers of Monday's meeting said he never responded to their invitation. Instead, he was at a meeting of the Ericsson Street Block Association in East Elmhurst.
Talking budget victories at the Ericsson Street Block Association, $10 million to fight reverse mortgage fraud, $10 million immigrant fund. pic.twitter.com/JkGeq6cu2j— Senator Jose Peralta (@SenatorPeralta) June 26, 2017
In a statement released Monday night, Peralta said he chose not to attend because he never heard of the coalition organizing the town hall.
"Unfortunately, 'Citizens for District 13' — a group that my office has never heard of in the many years of dealing with community organizations — appears more focused on furthering a counterproductive anti-Independent Democratic Conference agenda than taking any action that has to do with a healthy and constructive debate about the future of this district," he wrote.
"While some seek to politically grandstand by promoting rallies and town halls, I am busy protecting immigrant tenants from heartless landlords, and making sure New Yorkers are protected from lead paint chips falling onto the streets and sidewalks from elevated subway tracks."
His constituents said they still would have liked to see him so he could further explain his switch to the IDC, although some said they weren't surprised he didn't attend.
"I don't think he can stand the heat from his constituents and their real anger," said Holly Anderson, from Jackson Heights. "He doesn't seem to be doing anything strategically."
Instead of Peralta, attendees heard from speakers like Lisa DellAquila, from the progressive group True Blue NY, who discussed the IDC — calling the eight breakaway senators "pragmatic progressive posers."
Kenneth Shelton from Black Lives Matter speaking at the town hall. (DNAinfo/Katie Honan)
Bianca Villanueva, from the Alliance for Quality Education, discussed the gap in funding for schools throughout the district. Shelton, from Black Lives Matter, told residents they should be wary of any politician ignoring them, regardless of party.
There was a portion of the evening reserved for "shout-outs," in which leaders of other groups could explain how residents can get politically involved.
It was a success for the organizers, although they would have loved for Peralta to attend, too.
"A lot of people have come out and they're learning more about the IDC, it's a new phenomenon, especially because Peralta didn't run as one," said Aisha Gomez, an organizer who lives in LeFrak City.
"Of course we wanted Peralta to come. What's better than the person who's accountable?"