Walking around the South Bronx with Borough President Rubén Díaz Jr. is a bit like walking around with a celebrity. Whether strolling the sidewalks or riding in a car, Bronxites wave, call out and come up to Díaz, who has represented them in some capacity since 1997.
“The best part of my job is there is no typical day,” Díaz, 44, told Metro Friday over sushi at Ceetay, a Mott Haven eatery he frequents.
The son of former state senator and current City Councilman Rubén Díaz Sr., the younger Díaz got bit by the political bug early, starting out as a City Council messenger before being elected to the state Assembly at 23, the youngest person to do so since Theodore Roosevelt.
When President Barack Obama tapped then-Bronx BP Adolfo Carrión Jr. to a White House position in 2009, Díaz won a special election for the office by a landslide.
Since he took office, the Bronx has seen the Bronx River restored, tens of thousands of units of various housing developed, drops in crime and unemployment rates and $15.5 billion in private investment among other things. The horizon includes four new Metro-North stations, this year’s forthcoming NYC Ferry service in Soundview and FreshDirect moving its headquarters to Mott Haven.
“What I’m most proud of, I guess, is the psychology of the Bronx,” Díaz said. “There was a disconnect, but now we believe in ourselves. There’s hope, we’re working together, and our spirit is becoming more and more intact. Life isn’t perfect, but people expect and know they deserve better.”
Díaz looking to City Hall in 2021
In January, Díaz began his second and final term as Bronx borough president, and there is one more political position he has his sights on: being mayor of New York City, a feat just one other BP accomplished in 1990, when David Dinkins was elected after three years as Manhattan BP, the Board of Elections said. If elected, Díaz would be the city's first Latino mayor.
“I’m looking and exploring and considering and raising money for it,” he said. “We’ll see what kind of support we get as I traverse the city. I feel optimistic that there’s a place there for someone who is a genuine New Yorker who was born and raised in the very darkest times of New York City. I was born to Puerto Rican parents and lived in city housing and worked my way up the political ladder to do something to turn around a community in one of the most underserved areas of the city.”
Beyond the 2021 mayoral election is unchartered territory for Díaz, who has two grown sons, Ruben III and Ryan, with his wife, Hilda.
“If I’m given that opportunity, then that’s where I would like to be,” he said. “If not, then I’m satisfied with my political career and will feel totally at peace with myself walking away."
Four places BP Díaz thinks you should visit in the Bronx
“I love sushi, and I was tired of going to other places outside the Bronx to get good sushi,” Díaz said of the five-year-old eatery at 129 Alexander Ave., whose tuna bruschetta alone is worth a visit.
• Orchard Beach
Díaz has spent summers at this Bronx public beach since childhood and can still be found salsa dancing there all summer. Extensive renovation on its pavilion is slated to begin soon.
“I hope to have the No. 1 beach in the state of New York be Orchard Beach, and the pavilion be a place we use year-round,” he said.
• Soundview Park
This 205-acre park “was where they used to dump cars into the Bronx River,” Díaz said, “but we put tens of millions of dollars into the park, and we have an amphitheater where we do movies and shows.”
This Italian market houses several merchants, and Díaz says to get the Bobby D. (as in De Niro) at Mike’s Deli, and “tell Dave that Rubén sent you.” The sandwich features figs, prosciutto, fresh mozzarella, parmigiano, roasted red peppers, truffle oil and balsamic.