On Saturday, New York City Councilman Ruben Diaz Sr., a Bronx Democrat with a long history of homophobia, announced that he would run to succeed retiring Rep. José Serrano in New York’s 15th Congressional District.
Diaz proudly declared he was “not progressive, I’m a conservative Democrat,” and bemoaned that “a conservative Democrat has no voice.” Diaz also called himself “the opposite” of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the prominent progressive who represents a neighboring House seat. Diaz is seeking a seat that gave Hillary Clinton 94% of the vote, but as we’ll discuss, he unfortunately may have a real chance to win the primary for one of the bluest districts in the country.
As we’ve noted before, Diaz has a truly ugly record during his decades in office. As Ross Barkan recently recounted for Gothamist, Diaz "once equated being gay to 'having sex with animals' and attacked the 1994 Gay Games in New York because he said the participants were 'likely infected with AIDS.'"
It's not just words with him, though, it's deeds, too. Diaz once sued to block the expansion of a public school serving at-risk gay teens, and in 2011, he wasn’t just the only Democrat in the state Senate to vote against legalizing same-sex marriage, he also led a rally to unsuccessfully try and derail the bill.
Diaz hasn’t changed in the ensuring years, either. During the 2016 Republican presidential primary, Diaz, sporting his familiar cowboy hat, campaigned in the Bronx with Ted Cruz (a total of a dozen people showed up). During that race Diaz also said “I do like Donald Trump” and added, “He’s like me, making enemies everywhere he goes.”
In February, Diaz was stripped of his committee chairmanship after declaring the council was "controlled by the homosexual community" in a radio interview, which set off widespread calls for his resignation. Diaz’s son and namesake, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., also said the councilman should apologize, though he didn’t called on him to resign: The elder Diaz has done neither. Around that same time, Diaz did take the time to express his disgust with Hispanic state legislators who voted for a bill to strengthen abortion rights protections, saying that because of them, “New York State became the abortion capital of the United States.”
Unfortunately, none of this has stopped Diaz from winning Democratic primary after Democratic primary in one of the bluest communities in the country. In 2016, months after he stumped for Cruz, Diaz won renomination to the state Senate district with almost 90% of the vote. Diaz ran for the city council the following year and won the five-way primary 42-21. Barkan explained the problem in February when he noted that “Social conservatism has never been a disqualifier for politicians who want to rise to power in the Bronx" before rattling off a long list of local politicos with a history of hostility to gay rights.
While that last contest may show that Diaz’s popularity has limits, it also underscores another potential problem here. It only takes a simple plurality to win the Democratic nomination for Congress, and in a crowded race, it’s very possible Diaz’s base could carry him to victory even if a majority of voters don’t want him representing them.
We may well get that crowded race before too long. So far, the only other notable announced Democratic candidate is Tomas Ramos, the director of the Bronx River Community Center, who kicked off his bid over the weekend. However, nonprofit director Jonathan Ortiz and City Councilman Ritchie Torres have both filed paperwork with the FEC to run here, while plenty of other Democrats have expressed interest in running.
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