De Blasio's rivals: Rubén Diaz weighs in on the mayor

De Blasio's rivals: Rubén Diaz weighs in on the mayor

De Blasio's rivals: Rubén Diaz weighs in on the mayor
January 23, 2017

Bronx Borough President Rubén Díaz Jr. spent a significant part of a Friday evening last month calling for “a strong round of applause” – for a police official, a state senator and constituents who caught the holiday spirit.

Outside of the 47th Police Precinct in the Bronx, Díaz praised Inspector Ruel Stephenson and his officers for gathering some 5,000 items for a holiday toy giveaway, and encouraged the children and mothers lining up to receive them to clap. Later, at the Morris Park Community Association’s party, Díaz mentioned that he recently accepted an invitation to discuss the borough’s progress in Beacon, in the Hudson Valley, and cajoled the few dozen attendees there into applauding the Bronx’s ascension. He credited group after group: leaders in the state capital, the Bronx’s City Council delegation, the borough’s congressional representatives – and pretty much anyone else living in the borough.

“We have individuals like each and every single one of you, who are from the Bronx, who love your community, who understand that yes, you want to make your household and your blocks better and Morris Park better, but you know that doing so makes the entire Bronx better – and that makes me look good,” he said.

Notably, Mayor Bill de Blasio did not make the list of people commended by Díaz, who is considering heeding those who have encouraged him to challenge the mayor. The borough president focused solely on drawbacks when asked during an interview with City & State how the city was faring.

Díaz said he believed some of New York City’s greatest struggles – including homelessness, transportation and education – would be dramatically different if City Hall had a better relationship with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s staff. “It’s a shame,” said Díaz, who has a close relationship with Cuomo and served as co-chairman of the governor’s re-election campaign. “We have to work for the people of the city of New York and the state of New York. And at times, it means getting through personalities. At times, it means understanding that you can’t do it by yourself.”

Díaz views the mayor’s record in the Bronx as mixed. The borough president said he has worked well with city housing and park officials, but he criticized the administration for not putting any money toward the restoration of the Orchard Beach Pavilion, which is a historic site that Díaz wants to refurbish and turn into a year-round tourist attraction. And he went so far as to describe de Blasio’s approach to the Kingsbridge Armory as “destructive” to economic development. Díaz backed a plan to transform the site into an ice skating rink complex, but recently the developers mounted a legal challenge to the administration’s policy of withholding access to the site until all preliminary funding was raised, according to the Daily News.

Díaz hitched his reputation to the armory in 2009, when he opposed efforts to turn it into a mall because developers refused to pay workers an elevated minimum wage. At the time, Díaz had recently won a special election for the borough presidency. Before that, he represented the Soundview neighborhood in the Assembly and collaborated with others in the so-called Rainbow Rebellion to seize control of the Bronx Democratic County Committee.

Díaz grew up helping his father, an evangelical preacher from Puerto Rico, mount unsuccessful campaigns in the Bronx, according to the Observer. (The elder Díaz won City Council and state Senate seats years after his son became an elected official.) Since leaving the Assembly for Borough Hall, Díaz has cultivated a reputation for working with real estate developers, pushing for more gifted and talented classes, backing charter schools and partnering with the governor on economic development initiatives.

Will City Hall be his next destination? Díaz said he remains unsure. “If you asked me to make a decision today, I would say that I am running for re-election,” he said. “But in one way, shape or form, in this coming year, I intend to be a strong voice for the vision of the future of the Bronx and the city.”

Sarina Trangle