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OpinionColumnistsMark Chiusano

Ruben Diaz Sr.'s greatest controversial hits

The Bronx politician is at it again, offending gay people (and others). 

The longtime Bronx politician is at it again,

The longtime Bronx politician is at it again, offending gay people (and others).  Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

Bronx City Councilman Ruben Diaz Sr. has found himself in his favorite location — the headlines.

The subject this time? Diaz claimed on a recent Spanish-language radio program that much of the City Council is “controlled by the homosexual community,” as first reported by NY1.

The speaker of the council is Corey Johnson, an openly gay man, and there are other openly gay members, but there seems to have been more than simple demographics in Diaz’s analysis.

Amid the furor he retweeted this gem by a random Twitter account saying that gay lobbying organizations are wealthy and powerful: “They Only lobby for Gay issues & have disproportionate influence on politics and majority population lifestyle.”

A duly elected city official, folks! But this situation is just the latest in the greatest hits for Diaz, the 75-year-old Pentecostal minister fond of cowboy hats and jackets with his name on them who has been hopping through various political jobs here since the 90s.

An incomplete list of the hits, starting with his religiously grounded opposition to most things gay:

As a commissioner of the Civilian Complaint Review Board in 1994, Diaz criticized the forthcoming Gay Games, a sports and cultural festival. The thousands of athletes “are likely to be already infected with AIDS or can return home with the virus,” he wrote in a column at the time.

In 2003, he opposed the expansion of the Harvey Milk school, a small high school program meant to help gay and lesbian students. Diaz called it segregation and said, “The homosexual kids, they are not the ones with the problems,” according to the New York Times.

In 2011, while rallying against same sex marriage, he marched down Grand Concourse while his own granddaughter held a small counterprotest with her girlfriend.

When she approached him after, he said he loved her, which echoes comments he has made about individual gay people among his family and friends. But as a group of unknowns? He saw things differently.

See the experience of current City Councilman Daniel Dromm of Queens, who according to a 2014 Times Ledger article tried for nearly a year to convince Diaz to unsubscribe him from Diaz’s email newsletter. The newsletter was constantly “offensive and bigoted,” said Dromm, who is gay.

That newsletter is a key way that Diaz reminds people that he exists, gossipy missives about local politics signed off with the tagline “this is what you should know.”

What you should know is often how much Diaz dislikes other social issues like abortion, which was the subject of a recent newsletter after the state legislature passed the Reproductive Health Act strengthening Roe v. Wade protections. Or as Diaz put it, “New York State became the abortion capital of the United States.” He went on to criticize the Hispanic senators who voted for it.

He has also inspired smaller moments of outrage in the past, such as in 2005 when as a state senator he opposed stem cell research.

“Hitler used the ashes of the Jews to make bars of soap. In America, we are selling fetal tissue to be used in the manufacture of cosmetics,” he said on the State Senate floor. “What is the difference?"

Supporters and sometime-allies like his own son, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., have grown accustomed to explaining how they disagree with the councilman on social issues. They sometimes suggest that he's from a different time. Ruben’s doing Ruben, basically, just like when he and and three other State Senators threw the legislature into chaos in 2009 when they refused to back a Democratic leader for a while, holding out for boons like some leadership positions. It was a key moment for that august body, an example of pure Democratic chaos that was copied by other senators in later years to create the Independent Democratic Conference which empowered Republicans, much more successfully.

Still wearing his cowboy hats and giving away Christmas presents in his district, Diaz is now holding court in Manhattan rather than Albany. Still pushing people’s buttons and saying what he wants to say  as long as people will listen.

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