daddy issues

Ruben Diaz Jr.’s House Divided: Endorse Dad or Pal in Bronx Congress Race?

City Councilmember Rubén Díaz Sr. embraces his son, Bronx Borough President Rubén Díaz Jr., at a ribbon-cutting ceremony at Parque de los Niños on Morrison Avenue in Soundview, Aug. 13, 2019.
City Councilmember Rubén Díaz Sr. embraces his son, Bronx Borough President Rubén Díaz Jr., at a ribbon-cutting ceremony at Parque de los Niños on Morrison Avenue in Soundview, Aug. 13, 2019. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. faces an endorsement dilemma in the race to replace retiring Rep. José Serrano in the House of Representatives.

Does Diaz back his father, controversy-magnet and Councilmember Ruben Diaz Sr.?

Or does the 2021 mayoral hopeful endorse his longtime friend and ally, Marlene Cintron, who recently became the latest candidate to join a packed field seeking the South Bronx congressional seat?

When asked by THE CITY at Tuesday’s reopening of the recently reconstructed Parque de los Ninos in Soundview, Diaz Jr. punted on an early endorsement.

“My dad, like all of the other candidates, still has to earn my support,” the borough president said. “And more importantly, he’s still gonna have to earn the support of the voters of the 15th Congressional District.”

Diaz’s diplomatic response underscored his balancing act with his father, a 76-year-old Pentecostal minister and self-described “conservative Democrat” who has come under fire for a history of homophobic and sexist statements.

‘We Love Each Other’

The elder Diaz declared earlier this year that the “homosexual community” controls the City Council, and later said reporting sexual harrassment would make him a “rat,” according to the Daily News.

At Tuesday’s ribbon-cutting, though, the former state senator took his son’s lack of immediate support in stride.

“My son and I, we have the best relationship in the world,” said the senior Diaz, clad in his trademark cowboy hat. “We love each other, we talk. But it’s business, politics. He has to do what he has to do, I have to do what I have to do.”

In a perfect world, he added, “Everybody would endorse me. Everybody, every single elected official, the gay community.”

The younger Diaz, meanwhile, called Cintron a member of “my extended family.” She’s also a close political pal whom he tapped to head The Bronx Overall Economic Development Corp.

Bronx Congressional candidate Marlene Cintron
Bronx Congressional candidate Marlene Cintron Photo: Via Marlene Cintron for Congress 2020

Cintron last week announced her plans to run in the 2020 Democratic primary, joining the likes of Councilmember Ritchie Torres, Assemblymember Michael Blake and former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.

Tomas Ramos, program director at the Bronx River Community Center, and Jonathan Ortiz, currently a financial counselor at the nonprofit Phipps Neighborhoods, also are running. Samelys Lopez, a Bronx activist, is expected to soon toss her hat into the crowded ring.

Cintron declined comment on whom Diaz Jr. might support. But she noted that while roughly 52% of the district she hopes to represent is female, the area’s never sent a woman to Congress.

“I took a look at everybody running and there was no one that I could vote for,” Cintron told THE CITY. “And I was not happy with the choices. And so certainly, I understood that I represent my Congressional district, because I am my Congressional district, I was born and raised here.”

That appeared to be a thinly veiled swipe at Mark-Viverito, who lives in East Harlem. Though she represented part of the South Bronx when in the City Council, East Harlem is not in the Congressional District up for grabs.

Big Changes in The Bronx

Serrano, who was elected in 1990, will retire as he deals with Parkinson’s disease. During his time in office, much has changed, said Bronx Borough Historian Lloyd Ultan.

“In the 1990s, there were still some remnants of the time when The Bronx was burning,” said Ultan, who has held the borough president-appointed position since 1996.

Now, “there’s no rubble and empty lots anymore,” he added.

One thing has resisted change, Ultan said: “In the 1990s it (NY-15) was the poorest Congressional district in the country and it’s still the poorest Congressional district in the country.”

And while increasing development has polarized some residents — and put others at risk of displacement — wooing businesses to The Bronx has been central to Cintron’s work at The Bronx Overall Economic Development Corp. About $19 billion in private equity has been invested in the borough since 2009, according to BOEDC, and around 44,000 units of housing have been developed in that time.

Her ties to the business community will likely boost her campaign, said a longtime local political observer. “She’ll have the money, but the Rev. [Diaz Sr.] will have the bodies,” the source said.

Cintron, who worked as the executive director of the State Senate’s Puerto Rican and Latino Caucus when Diaz Sr. was its chair, said the breadth of her experience sets her apart from the competition.

“What distinguishes me from the rest at this particular point is that while everybody else is talking about what it is that they want to do in CD-15, I’ve been doing it for the last nine years,” said Cintron, who worked for Serrano’s late predecessor, Rep. Robert Garcia, and was a member of the Young Lords Party.

“Actually, I’ve been doing it all my life.”

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