Philip Ramos and Monica Martinez, Democratic candidates for State Senate District...

Philip Ramos and Monica Martinez, Democratic candidates for State Senate District 4. Credit: James Escher

ALBANY — An Assembly member known for pursuing state funds to aid his community and a former state senator with a record of achieving consensus on tough policy issues are fighting for the Democratic nomination to represent Long Island’s first State Senate district with a Latino plurality.

The Democratic primary on Aug. 23 in the newly realigned 4th Senate District pits state Assemb. Philip Ramos against former state Sen. Monica Martinez. Both are from Brentwood and graduated from Brentwood High School.

Ramos, 66, was born in the Bronx after his parents moved from Puerto Rico.

He cites his 20 years of experience in the Assembly bringing back state funding for community projects as evidence that he would be best to represent the district. That aid included grants to community service groups and funds to build a skate park at Roberto Clemente Park. He also supported more school aid, laws aimed at ridding illegal guns from the streets and tax cuts for the middle class.

“Some of the biggest accomplishments I’ve had is bringing resources to my community at a higher level than in the past to a community that was traditionally ignored and underfunded,” Ramos said in an interview with Newsday. “I believe I could make sure they get the funds that they need and that nonprofits are given sufficient resources” to carry out health and social service programs.

He said schools can be fully funded while holding the property taxes down with the state aid.

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Martinez, 45, deputy regional director for the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. emigrated from El Salvador with her parents when she was 3 years old. She was a state senator from 2019 to 2020 representing the 3rd Senate District, which covered parts of Suffolk County’s South Shore. She lost her seat in the 2020 elections.

She points to a list of her bills that were made law during her previous two-year term, such as requiring large group insurance companies to cover mammograms for women 35 to 39 years old and creating a misdemeanor crime of revenge porn.

Martinez, a former assistant principal at East Middle School in Brentwood, said she will provide a unique perspective to seek to make schools safer from mass shootings. Martinez said she developed a safety plan while working at East Middle School.

“I feel I can bring more to the table,” she said in an interview. “It’s something very important to me, to keep them safe.”

She also plans to pursue state aid to help Long Island’s water quality while holding the line on local property taxes. But she said her strongest trait is achieving compromise to resolve long-stalled problems.

Although Ramos and Martinez share views on most broad Democratic issues, such as protecting civil rights and improving health care, the campaign is an intense fight with jabs thrown by each candidate.

Ramos has focused on Martinez’s vote in 2019 when she was a senator against a bill Ramos co-sponsored to allow immigrants who came to the U.S. illegally to obtain state driver's licenses.

“For my opponent, Monica Martinez, there is a feeling of betrayal in a lot of communities of color on Long Island,” Ramos said. “A lot of our constituents can’t understand why she would vote against the driver’s license bill that would give them what they wanted.”

Supporters of the bill said those in the country illegally need driver’s licenses to go work or school and to become productive, taxpaying members of their community. They said the licenses also would make streets safer because the drivers would receive instruction and have to carry auto insurance in case of accidents.

Opponents at the time, led by Republicans, feared the licenses could be used by terrorists to advance plots.

Martinez said she feared that President Donald Trump could have used the state licenses to arrest and deport immigrants. She said she was also sympathetic to immigrants who entered the country legally and followed the rules to become citizens who may have felt slighted by the measure.

“He is attacking me and he doesn’t know the facts,” Martinez said. She said the vote was perhaps the most difficult she had to make in her Senate term.

“I know the average immigrant just wants to put food on the table,” she said. But “I couldn’t trust the person in the White House at the time who was using anti-immigrant rhetoric,” she said, referring to Trump.

“If I had to vote again on that bill with the president we have in office now, my vote would be ‘yes,’” Martinez said. “I know the necessity of a license — for everyone, not just immigrants.”

Martinez is supported by Suffolk County Democratic chairman Richard Schaffer, who has criticized Ramos for running for the Senate while also running for reelection to his 6th Assembly District seat. Shaffer called that the “height of arrogance.”

Ramos criticized the party chairman for endorsing a primary candidate, a move usually reserved for an incumbent.

Ramos told Newsday he’s not running for two offices at once. Ramos said he is running for the Senate seat in the primary and if he wins he will run for the Senate in the November election, while dropping out of his Assembly reelection bid. Ramos said if he loses the Aug. 23 primary for the Senate, he will then run for reelection in the Assembly.

Each candidate has had to get to know and be known in communities they haven’t represented before. The 4th Senate District was created through the redistricting process this year, which redraws election districts based on U.S. Census changes. The district runs from Islandia to Amityville. The district has more Democrats than Republicans and Latinos account for 43% of the population, which makes it Long Island’s first Latino plurality State Senate district.

The new district is “telling of where New York state is going,” said Assemb. Maritza Davila (D-Brooklyn), chairwoman of the Legislature’s Puerto Rican/Hispanic Task Force.

Latinos and Hispanics now make up about 19% of the state’s population, according to the Census, but Maritza said Hispanic and Latinos hold only a little more than 10% of state Legislature seats.

She said the new 4th Senate district will help lead to more Latino districts to better represent the community. “It will be historic,” she said.

4th State Senate District Democratic Primary

  • Philip R. Ramos, 66, of Brentwood has served as an assemblyman representing the 6th District since 2002 and is the assistant speaker of the Assembly. He is an executive board member of the Assembly's Puerto Rican/Hispanic Task Force and the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus. He served 20 years in the Suffolk County Police Department before retiring as a detective in 2001.
  • Monica Martinez, 44, of Brentwood, is deputy regional director for the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. She is a former Suffolk County legislator who served in the State Senate from 2017 to 2018 in the 3rd Senate District. She has a bachelor’s degree in biology and history from the state University at Binghamton and a master’s in secondary education from Stony Brook University.

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