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City Council Votes to Kill Diaz’s Committee

City lawmakers take first concrete action against homophobic councilmember

Ruben Diaz, Sr., seen here during a City Council hearing, has watched his political career unravel after refusing to apologize or resign in the face of disparaging comments he made about the LGBTQ community.
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As anticipated, the New York City Council voted overwhelmingly on Wednesday to dissolve the committee chaired by Bronx Councilmember Ruben Diaz, Sr., in response to his recent homophobic comments about the LGBTQ community’s control over the city’s lawmaking body.

The council’s Committee on Rules, Privileges, and Elections voted unanimously, 11-0, shortly after noon on Wednesday to dissolve the short-lived Committee on For-Hire Vehicles. The full City Council then voted 45-1, with three abstentions, to do away with the committee.

Councilmembers with track records of homophobia or who are aligned with Diaz unsurprisingly pushed back against their colleagues’ efforts. Councilmember Chaim Deutsch of Brooklyn was the lone vote in opposition, while Bronx Councilmembers Andy King, Ydanis Rodriguez, and Fernando Cabrera abstained.

LGBTQ Councilmembers, including Ritchie Torres of the Bronx, and Speaker Corey Johnson, were among those to vocally condemn Diaz during the Rules Committee meeting.

Johnson, who initially demanded an apology from Diaz and later sought his resignation, said the vote was “not something that we do lightly” and that lawmakers were “taking action together, united against intolerance.”

Torres took a bolder stance against Diaz — a fellow Bronx pol — one day after his spokesperson refused to say whether he supported calls for an apology or his resignation.

“I, for one, do not want his damn apology. I want the Council to make an example of him, and make an example of him we will,” Torres said during the meeting. “Today, we will let it be known that when an elected official uses the power of his office to stoke the fires of bigotry, there will be consequenc­es.”

At the time of the full Council vote, LGBTQ councilmembers offered emotional, personal stories about their own coming out process — and illustrated the kind of negative impact Diaz’s comments have on queer youth.

Out gay Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer, who led the charge among his colleagues to seek Diaz’s resignation and spearheaded a rally against him at City Hall on Tuesday, said he ran for public office so LGBTQ folks could merely have a seat at the table — a clear reference to the 75-year-old’s comments about gay people having too much power.

“Hate speech leads to hate crimes,” Van Bramer said. “Demonizing people causes real and permanent pain. When elected officials speak with such hate, young people internalize that hate. That is violence.”

During a press conference before the full vote, Johnson said everyone has “blind spots” and admitted he made a mistake by giving everyone — including Diaz — a chance when he became speaker. Johnson said he was unaware of some of the history on Diaz’s homophobia, despite most of it having been well documented for years.

The Committee on For-Hire Vehicles was created when Diaz, Sr., returned to the City Council from the State Senate. Diaz said during his interview with a Spanish-language program known as “El Desahogo” — the same interview in which he made the anti-gay comments — that he initially desired to be chair of the Transportation Committee, but that was a position already held by Rodriguez.

The speaker stressed that the work carried out by the For-Hire Vehicles Committee would be able to “go back under the transportation committee and still be handled appropriat­ely.”

“We’ll make sure that they have the staff resources and that they’ll be able to do the regular Transportation Committee work,” Johnson said, adding that he is “confident” that lawmakers will be able to move forward without the For-Hire Vehicles Committee.

Updated 4:21 pm, February 13, 2019
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