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Bronx Dissident Democrats Want to Ditch Ruben Diaz Sr.

Ruben Diaz Sr. attends a council hearing on Amazon, Jan. 30, 2019.
Ruben Diaz Sr. attends a council hearing on Amazon, Jan. 30, 2019. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Some prominent Bronx Democrats are pressing embattled City Councilmember Ruben Diaz Sr. to resign — while others want to throw him out of the party altogether.

But if history is any indicator, the outspoken former state senator — now seeking a South Bronx congressional seat — may not be going anywhere.

Diaz, who has a long history of controversial comments, infuriated many recently when he reportedly declared he would not be a “rat” if he witnessed sexual harassment.

In a would-be “open letter” circulated privately on May 11 to state elected officials, along with a request for their signature, Sen. Alessandra Biaggi (D-Bronx/Westchester) called on Diaz to step down from the City Council post he’s held since 2017.

“Rev. Diaz has attempted to downgrade sexual harassment by describing it as a ‘compliment,’ ” read the letter, obtained by THE CITY. “This is not the first time he’s tried to spin his willful disregard for the human rights of others, whether it’s LGBTQ+ New Yorkers or women.”

“For these reasons, we are calling for Rev. Diaz to resign,” Biaggi’s letter continued.

On May 13, however, the letter was sent out publicly as a joint statement from just three members of the state Legislature: Biaggi, Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou (D-Manhattan) and State Sen. Gustavo Rivera (D-Bronx). The line demanding Diaz’ resignation was notably absent, though the statement was otherwise the same.

A representative for Biaggi said the lawmakers instead opted to throw their support behind legislation proposed by Councilmembers Helen Rosenthal (D-Manhattan) and Ritchie Torres (D-Bronx) on reporting harassment.

In a statement to THE CITY Sunday, Biaggi said, “Rev. Diaz Sr.’s intolerant and hateful statements and refusal to report harassment show he is totally in conflict with the core values of the Democratic Party. So I strongly support the members of the Bronx Democratic County Committee who are moving to expel him from the Party.”

Previous Ouster Attempt Flopped

It’s not the first time in recent months that party officials have demanded consequences for Diaz’ behavior, without success.

In February, Diaz, a Pentecostal minister, remarked that the gay community controls the City Council, drawing national attention and motivating a small group of his Bronx Democratic Party colleagues to draft a letter demanding his expulsion.

Signees cited conduct by Diaz, father of Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., that was “out of sympathy with the Democratic Party.”

“His statements of bigoted, homophobic, and xenophobic views, absent any legislation or candidacy he is speaking in opposition to, is cause for us to maintain our position,” read an initial letter from the group, dated Feb. 20.

That letter was signed by 36 members of the party, including 18 who serve on the 1,600-member Bronx County Committee, which governs the operation. The message was drafted by Michael Beltzer, head of the progressive advocacy group Local Dems NY and an unsuccessful challenger to Diaz for his Council seat.

It was hand-delivered to Bronx Democratic Party Executive Director Angel Santana on Feb. 20, according to Beltzer, but the group hasn’t heard back from party leadership.

Bob Kappstatter, a political and media consultant, knew of no case of anyone being thrown out of the party, and said Diaz could simply rejoin if he were booted. Diaz has always been “half Republican,” said Kappstatter, a former longtime Daily News Bronx bureau chief. “He just needs to be Democrat in name in The Bronx.”

Still, Belzer dismissed soon-to-retire Rep. Jose Serrano and Diaz as old-school Bronx powers whom time has passed by — and highlighted Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as an icon of the borough’s future.

Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez speaks with reporters at her new office in Jackson Heights, March 4, 2019.
Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez speaks with reporters at her new office in Jackson Heights, March 4, 2019. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

“Between the outgoing congressperson and him, they have repped the south Bronx for almost a century,” Beltzer said in a statement.

“You can’t have a neighboring district electing a forward-thinking leader like AOC and then have a reactive politician of the past.”

Santana did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Assemblymember Latoya Joyner, chair of the Bronx Democratic County Committee, referred THE CITY back to the mum Bronx Democratic Party for comment.

A spokesperson for Diaz also did not respond to questions from THE CITY.

Mocked on ‘SNL’

Those looking to boot Diaz from the Democratic Party need to carefully follow expulsion procedures, said Jerry Goldfeder, prominent New York election lawyer.

“And the statute doesn’t contemplate expelling people for unconventional views,” he said in an email.

Diaz’ critics within the party remain hopeful.

“Obviously, the Reverend’s behavior has sparked nationwide attention,” said John Doyle, a member of the Bronx Democratic Party’s County Committee and former City Council candidate from City Island who signed Beltzer’s letter. “I mean, he was on SNL for crying out loud.”

He was referring to a February “Weekend Update” segment after the “gay” comment in which the show’s Colin Jost mocked a picture of Diaz wearing his trademark cowboy hat — saying he looked like a “bounty hunter from the future” and “all of the Village People put together.”

This is not the first time a faction of the Bronx Democratic Party has made efforts to kick out one of its more conservative members. In 2002, members attempted to remove former State Senator Pedro Espada Jr. from their ranks.

But procedural and legal hiccups grounded the plan to expel Espada, and it ultimately failed.

Opponents of Diaz in the party hope things will be different this time around.

“Not all Democrats are the same. There are good Democrats and bad Democrats,” said Doyle. “And Ruben Diaz is not a good Democrat.”

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