Diaz Family Values

While Rubén Díaz Sr. lobs bombs against gay rights, son Rubén Jr. and lesbian granddaughter Erica run for cover

After two years, in 2006, Spitzer quietly ended his investigation. The only wrongdoing he found was that Senior needed to repay $4,221 of Soundview funds that had been used to buy furniture and speakers for the Senator's office. The Albany Times Union reported that Díaz also "wrote checks from his campaign fund to pay Children and Family Services and the U.S. Small Business Administration for grant money provided Soundview that was misused."

Critics at the time, including Albany watchdog Citizens United, were furious with Spitzer for not appointing a special investigator while he was preparing for a gubernatorial run. His need for the Díaz family's support in the Latino community during his upcoming run, they argued, amounted to a conflict of interest. (The Attorney General's office would not supply the original report to the Voice.)

Not surprisingly, Díaz Senior doesn't like to be asked about this. In a brief phone interview, he said, "That was investigated by the FBI, and everything was cleared. Nothing was wrong" he yelled, adding, "Ask the FBI!"

Natasha Dillon (right), of Queer Rising, poses with a life-size cut-out of Senior for “RuBen’s Drag Race.”
C.S. Muncy
Natasha Dillon (right), of Queer Rising, poses with a life-size cut-out of Senior for “RuBen’s Drag Race.”
An awkward family reunion: Erica Díaz stopped protesting her grandfather for a moment to give him a hug.
C.S. Muncy
An awkward family reunion: Erica Díaz stopped protesting her grandfather for a moment to give him a hug.

But when Díaz brings up the feds, he's bringing up another investigation of yet another corruption allegation altogether. The News reported in 2008 that Christian Community in Action, a far larger agency receiving more than $26 million in city contracts for home health care to seniors, was under investigation.

According to the News, the nonprofit received $1.5 million in public funding that had been steered to it by the Díazes. At the same time, according to the group's 2008 federal tax filings reviewed by the Voice, Díaz's current wife, Leslie, was listed as "director of field" for an annual salary of $68,521.

The News reported that also in 2007, "the nonprofit received a grand jury subpoena from the public corruption unit of Manhattan U.S. Attorney Michael Garcia," and, a month later, "the FBI served a subpoena on the Bronx office of the city Board of Elections and seized documents about the Díazes."

The U.S. attorney's office will neither confirm nor deny that any such case is closed or still under investigation, or even acknowledge whether those subpoenas were or were not ever served.

As for the senator who says "Divorce is wrong" employing both his current and former wives at the same time, the two women may never have run into each other on the job. As Soundview CEO, Padilla reportedly told the Albany Times Union, "Leslie Díaz was a no-show during her second tour of duty, as was the senator's ex-wife, Assemblyman Díaz's mother, Didionilda Vega, who was on the payroll for a short time but was shifted to a consultant."

Rubén Díaz Jr. was born in the Bronx in 1973. Like his father, he went to Lehman College. When he was elected to the New York State Assembly in 1997 at age 23, he became the youngest member elected to that body since Teddy Roosevelt. Junior was elected to the Assembly years before his father was even elected to the City Council.

But Junior's fast rise, and his attempts to reach beyond the Bronx, may be limited by his father's toxic politics. The "GayTM," so crucial to fundraising in Democratic circles, couldn't have a more obvious villain than Díaz Senior. That's a serious roadblock for Junior, who may run for mayor as early as 2013.

And yet his actual record is not so different from his father's. Junior keeps finding himself on both sides of a divisive issue, winning him both friends and enemies.

"We couldn't stay open without him," says Dirk McCall, director of the Bronx Community Pride Center, a small gay community center primarily offering youth and HIV services in Mott Haven. He notes that as Bronx Borough President, Junior is very supportive of the center, and he thinks the son shouldn't be judged for the acts of his father.

Junior doesn't shy away from "gay" causes: His face is all over the "Bronx Knows" anti-HIV campaign.

And yet not everyone buys it. "He voted against marriage," points out longtime activist Allen Roskoff, referring to Junior's vote against same-sex marriage equality in the State Assembly in 2007. The measure passed that house without his vote. (Junior's office denied all interview requests for this article, but noted that he supports civil unions.)

In an infamous exchange at a City Hall breakfast last year, Roskoff heatedly challenged Junior's manhood for not standing up to Senior. It got so intense that "I thought his handlers were going to remove me from the room," Roskoff says.

"He asked him, 'Why don't you stand up to your father? Why don't you be a man about this?' " says Cathy Marino-Thomas, who witnessed it. "It was pretty great."

Multiple sources say that Junior gets annoyed with his father's antics, which often leave him blindsided. But if Junior is upset that people associate his father's noise about gay marriage with him, he has no one to blame but himself. This was demonstrated clearly when his father decided to rain on his parade in May.

Bronx Week is a series of events promoting the borough, the sort of event that can be the highlight of the year for a borough president, an otherwise impotent post. When Senior chose to hold his anti-gay-marriage rally at the same time as the AIDS Walk, it was a calculated move against gay rights.

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