Councilman Ruben Diaz Sr. under fire for alleged elections violations in heat of Bronx Congressional run

New York City Councilman Ruben Diaz Sr.
New York City Councilman Ruben Diaz Sr. 

City Councilman Ruben Diaz Sr. — the frontrunner in the race for Rep. Jose Serrano’s South Bronx congressional seat — allegedly ran afoul of election law, a new complaint filed with the Federal Election Commission reveals.
The complaint, filed June 10 by the anti-Diaz political action committee Bronx United, accuses Diaz Sr. of knowingly accepting “illegal corporate contributions” in violation of federal law.
It alleges that Diaz Sr. helped distribute food donated to the city’s five borough presidents by Fresh Direct outside his Council district and to advance his Congressional run.
Diaz Sr.'s son is Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.
Council member Ritchie Torres.
Council member Ritchie Torres. (Angus Mordant/for New York Daily News)
The elder Diaz hasn’t been shy about advertising his coronavirus outreach on social media and through email.
In three posts from his Twitter account between May 8 and June 5, Diaz Sr. is pictured giving out boxes of food in the City Council district of Council members Rafael Salamanca and Diana Ayala. According to the complaint, those giveaways also took place within the 15th Congressional district, which Diaz Sr. hopes to win in the upcoming June 23 Democratic primary.
“It is unfathomable how Mr. Diaz Sr. could be conducting official business rather than campaigning at events which take place outside of the New York City District he currently represents, but within the Congressional District for which he is seeking election,” the complaint states.
“Even if campaigning were not the primary purpose of these events, that does not cleanse the impropriety and illegality of Mr. Diaz Sr. receiving and accepting undisclosed corporate contributions provided by Fresh Direct and using such contributions to elicit favor.”
The FEC declined to comment. A Fresh Direct spokesperson declined to directly address the FEC complaint, but said the company “has no role in the individual distribution process once we have delivered to designated locations in the boroughs.”
It appears Diaz Sr. may also be mixing government and politics within his own Council district when it comes to food distribution.
In a June 11 press release, he touts a June 15 “grocery giveaway" offering “free food and masks for the first 500 families of Castle Hill Houses.” The NYCHA complex is within his Council district, but the mailing address listed in the release is the same P.O. Box listed in his FEC filings.
As coronavirus has ravaged New York City and as protests over police brutality have raged for almost two weeks, the race for Serrano’s Congressional seat has gone largely unnoticed outside the district.
But it’s important for many reasons. It could mean the difference between the seat going to Diaz Sr., a socially conservative Pentecostal minister who’s unlikely to win friends in the House’s Democratic leadership, or someone more palatable to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
“He really would be without influence and the district will be left abandoned at a moment when a huge influx of federal funds could really turn it around and provide for health care during a pandemic,” said Ken Sherrill, a professor emeritus of political science at Hunter College. “They’d get screwed. They might as well have no one representing them.”
Diaz Sr. is known in New York political circles for his cowboy hats and his right-of-center stances on same-sex marriage, abortion and President Trump, but he has a formidable base that he’s built over decades.
Melissa Mark-Viverito in a file photo.
Melissa Mark-Viverito in a file photo. (Wes Parnell / NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)
He did not respond to requests for comment for this story.
When asked at a June 5 food giveaway outside his district to respond to criticisms leveled by competitors, he told a NY1 reporter simply: “No campaigning, just work.”
A recent poll has him slightly ahead of a crowded primary field, which includes Council members Ritchie Torres and Ydanis Rodriguez, as well as Assemblyman Michael Blake, former Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Samelys Lopez, who has the backing of the Democratic Socialists of America.
City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez.
City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez. (Luiz C. Ribeiro/for New York Daily News)
The poll gave Diaz a two-point lead in the race, with 22% of those surveyed saying they would vote for him and 20% saying they would go with the second-ranked candidate, Torres.
In an unusual move, the pollster, Data for Progress, essentially endorsed Torres, noting on its website that progressives should “consider supporting the most viable alternative.”
Other competitors have bristled at that notion, but there’s some evidence political observers are taking notice. State Sen. Luis Sepulveda recently switched his allegiance from Blake to Torres, and LGBTQ activists have also urged long shot candidates to drop out to boost Torres, who’s gay.
The FEC complaint against Diaz Sr. is not his first brush with potential ethics violations.
In 2013, Clement Gardner, the financial head of two non-profits tied to Diaz Sr. pleaded guilty to stealing more than $500,000 from them.
In 2018, the City Council’s Ethics Committee found he violated Council ethics rules by using a work email address for political ends.
And in 2019, his colleagues called for him to resign after saying the “homosexual community” controlled the City Council.
“It hardly poses a shock that Ruben Diaz Sr. is engaging in ethically questionable behavior,” Torres said of the latest FEC complaint. “If you’re looking for cronyism and corruption, Diaz Sr. is your man.”
Diaz Sr.’s attorney Chris Lynn declined to comment on the substance of the complaint. 
“We have prepared a formal response which will be submitted when we are formally served,” he said.

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