Rubén Díaz Sr.’s habit of offending

New York City Council Member Rubén Díaz Sr. chairs the committee oversight hearing on For-Hire Vehicles.
New York City Council Member Rubén Díaz Sr. chairs the committee oversight hearing on For-Hire Vehicles.
John McCarten for the New York City Council
New York City Council Member Rubén Díaz Sr. chairs the committee oversight hearing on For-Hire Vehicles.

Rubén Díaz Sr.’s habit of offending

The New York City councilman’s recent anti-gay comments mark just his latest controversy.
February 11, 2019

New York City Councilman Rubén Díaz Sr. has once again found himself at the epicenter of controversy.

On Feb. 8 during an interview with Spanish radio show “El Desahogo,” Díaz said the City Council is “controlled by the homosexual community.” The former state senator and Pentecostal minister cited this as the reason he faced rejection from his colleagues the moment he entered the council last year.

Díaz Sr.’s son, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., urged his father to apologize and referred to the councilman’s sentiments as “antagonistic, quarrelsome and wholly unnecessary” in a tweet on Feb. 9. Others, such as Speaker Corey Johnson, called on Díaz to apologize after he made a remark about Johnson, who is gay and single, being married to another man. Amid the backlash, Díaz defended himself in a Feb. 9 tweet, asking how his statement was homophobic and saying he was “giving them credit for the power and influence they have.” He also urged anyone asking him to resign to remember that the decision lies solely in the residents of his East Bronx district, and referred to himself as “the victim” in the situation.

This is hardly the cowboy hat-wearing councilman’s first rodeo. Although some of what he says would pass for normal in a state like Oklahoma, Díaz has served as a lonely beacon for outspoken social conservatism among New York City Democrats. And he tends to express things in indelicate ways. (He once likened stem cell research to Hitler using “the ashes of the Jews to make bars of soap.") Here is a rundown of Díaz’s other notable controversies since he joined the state Senate in 2002:

August 2003: Díaz touted that he "oppos(ed) segregation in any shape, type or form” when he filed a lawsuit to block the expansion of the Harvey Milk High School in Greenwich Village, a public high school designed, though not exclusively, for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender young people so that they could avoid being bullied. Díaz’s lawsuit argued that the school discriminated against heterosexual students. "The ones that we have to segregate really are the bullies,” Díaz said. “Those are the ones with the problems. The homosexual kids, they are not the ones with the problems.''

March 2004: Díaz spearheaded an anti-same-sex marriage rally on the steps of the county courthouse on the Grand Concourse in the Bronx, and he estimated 30,000 people attended, though police estimates put the crowd between 5,000 and 7,000. In a speech at the event, Díaz declared that the Democratic Party should give its full support to his cause.

October 2005: Díaz refused to endorse both major party mayoral candidates, Republican Michael Bloomberg and Democrat Fernando Ferrer, because of their support of same-sex marriage and abortion rights. “They have nothing to offer me according to the Bible,” Díaz said.

April 2013: After Díaz was the sole Democrat in the state Senate to vote against the state Legislature’s successful bill legalizing same-sex marriage in 2011, the then-senator faced backlash for openly disagreeing with the views of his son, Diaz Jr. The elder Díaz assured critics that his family was “stronger than ever” in one breath, but later preached, “The majority is not always right. Two thousand years ago the majority chose the rabbi and rejected Jesus. I could be only one in the whole world and I would not change my view.”

February 2014: Díaz sponsored legislation that would require the parents of elementary school students to attend a series of parenting classes before their children are allowed to enter seventh grade. “We are trying to expand their skills. Especially good parents would not miss an opportunity to expand their parental skills and get involved with their children’s psychological problems,” Díaz said. The bill was tabled in a Senate committee.

March 2015: Díaz invited conservative U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, then a presidential candidate, to the South Bronx, after Cruz had mocked and derided “New York values” only months earlier. Díaz described Cruz’s future tour as a thought experiment. “Imagine Ted Cruz traveling to the Bronx where there is a grassroots army of black and Hispanic Evangelical Christians who are just like him – and who have been ignored by every presidential candidate,” Díaz speculated. Cruz’s visit drew protesters and hecklers.

April 2016: Díaz declared that his opposition to same-sex marriage doesn’t mean that he rejects gay people. “I have a homosexual in my staff, I have a homosexual in my family, I have a lesbian in my family, my lawyer is gay with a husband,” he said. “So what does that say about me?”

April 2016: After forming allegiances with New York Republicans, Díaz was invited to a black-tie gala featuring President Donald Trump, Cruz and then-Ohio Gov. John Kasich. In response to Díaz Sr.’s dalliances with conservative Republicans who have offended many New Yorkers, including Cruz’s invite to the South Bronx, Díaz Jr. said, “It’s offensive to have invited Cruz to come ask for money and votes after he’s been so insulting to us. But you know how it is. We all have parents, and unfortunately parents don’t always listen or always get it right.”

September 2016: Díaz weighed in on Hillary Clinton’s infamous “basket of deplorables” comment, arguing that almost everyone would be in said metaphorical basket. “According to Hillary Clinton, if you are a sexist, you belong in the Basket of Deplorables,” Díaz wrote in his self-published column “What You Should Know.” “You should know that if most men were honest with themselves, and thought about any time they complimented a woman because of the way she looked, or spoke with other men about their thoughts about women, they would belong in the Basket of Deplorables.”

July 2017: When asked about his positions on abortion rights and same-sex marriage, Díaz openly rejected the city’s stance on the two issues, but said he respected the “law of the nation.” At a program at Lehman College in the Bronx, he said, in defiance of a founding principle of the U.S. republic, “Separation and church and state? I cannot separate myself from myself. Because I am the state and I am the church. So when you say separate the church and the state, I cannot do that.” The same day, Díaz continued to cite his gay lawyer as an example of his ability to exercise tolerance on the issue.

July 2018: The New York City Council’s Committee on Standards and Ethics held a hearing about Díaz’s alleged use of government email to send political messages to staffers and colleagues entitled “What You Should Know.” The committee continued to allow Díaz to write his monthly addresses in The Bronx Chronicle. His most recent is dated Jan. 31.

July 2018: Previous confrontations between New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer and the councilman came to a head when Díaz compared Stringer to “a warrior that hungers for vengeance,” in another “What You Should Know” column. Díaz accused Stringer of disliking Latinos, specifically Dominican-Americans who occupy state elected office. This came after Stringer criticized Díaz for having a “pro-Trump agenda” following Díaz’s criticisms against Stringer for failing to uncover NYCHA’s falsified lead paint inspections despite having conducted nine reports on NYCHA.

February 2019: The New York City Council's LGBT Caucus, Women's Caucus, and Progressive Caucus have issued statements calling for Díaz’s immediate resignation following his most recent remarks about the homosexual community, with a rally organized by City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer planned for outside City Hall on Feb. 12. Rather than revoke his comments, Díaz fired back and claimed that Albany, too, was under the “control” of the gay community. “People don’t want me to speak the truth,” Díaz said. “They not only control City Council, they control the politics in the state.”

Erica Scalise
is an editorial intern at City & State.