For Resilient Candidate, Reform Begins at Home — and in the Bedroom

Ruben Dario Vargas, who has waged a number of other local political campaigns, is now aiming for the State Senate’s vacant District 30 seat. |  RUBENVARGAS.COM
Ruben Dario Vargas, who has waged a number of other local political campaigns, is now aiming for the State Senate’s vacant District 30 seat. |

BY JACKSON CHEN | An Upper Manhattan community activist — running what is something of his umpteenth race for office — has now set his sights on the State Senate’s District 30.

Ruben Dario Vargas, 65, said he intends to to bring up issues that he sees as unaddressed in the district, which covers parts of the Upper West Side, East and West Harlem, and Upper Manhattan –– and in a recent interview with Manhattan Express he seemed ready to live up to that pledge. The seat was vacated when incumbent Bill Perkins won a special election victory for the City Council’s District 9 vacancy.

While a registered Democrat, Vargas said he’s running on the New York State Reform Party line. His opponents are Brian Benjamin and Dawn Simmons, who have secured, respectively, the Democratic Party and Republican Party lines in the May 23 special election.

The contest to succeed Perkins is not Vargas’ first crack at local politics, having lost bids for Congress, borough president, the State Assembly, and the City Council between 1996 and 2013. But Vargas, a retired veteran of the US Navy and Air Force, said he is undeterred, aiming at the State Senate based on an unusual platform which he characterized as being all about improving people’s quality of life.

“I think it’s time to legalize [and] unionize prostitution,” Vargas said. “Sex is a human need regardless of what gender the person is, regardless of who the person prefers sex with.”

The candidate said he hopes to see the stigma surrounding prostitution fade and eventually have a state agency that works to regulate the industry and protect its workers.

Vargas also thinks it’s time for society to redefine the boundaries of marriage, making it a renewable institution similar to holding a driver’s license. Marriage renewal, he said, should come up every 10 years, with couples given a choice of experiencing a second or third honeymoon or instead parting ways without the complications of a divorce proceeding.

In a district in which many voters come from communities of color, Vargas is also offering a seemingly contrarian view on police relations, as an advocate of the stop and frisk practices that sparked considerable criticism and some costly lawsuits during the Bloomberg administration. Stop and frisk, he argued, is a way to prevent a “lawless society.”

On tenant issues, Vargas advocates a doubling in the qualifying household income limit of $50,000 for the Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption program that offers rent freezes to those 62 years old and older in the private housing market.

Despite his previous failed runs, Vargas is voicing confidence about his latest bid, as is the party backing him.

“I think Ruben is going to win a lot of votes from people who don’t turn out during special elections and people who are taken for granted by the Democratic Party,” said Frank Morano, a spokesperson for the Reform Party.

Morano acknowledged that the race will be hard-fought, but said the Reform Party is confident he will at least best Republican Simmons for one of the top two spots on May 23.

“Once we win people over with [his] personality, his record, and his beliefs on issues, then there’s the challenge to get people out of the mindset of voting for whoever the Democratic Party is,” the Reform Party spokesperson said. “Everybody recognizes it’s a tremendous uphill battle, but I think if there’s anyone with the energy and wherewithal for the long shot, it’s Ruben.”