By Bob Kappstatter
The ever-controversial (and lovin’ it) Bronx state senator and Pentecostal minister Ruben (The Rev) Diaz Sr. —along with a host of city and state Dominican-American politicians — has laughed himself into the President Obama “birther” controversy.
Those electeds may have some ‘splainin’ to do over their lack of protest after the audience at a luncheon meeting of Diaz’ Hispanic clergy organization erupted in loud and long laughter after former Dominican Republic President Hipolito Mejia joked about Obama’s supposed African birthroots.
Mejia, one of two current presidential candidates courting local Dominican voters for the May 20 election , was caught on video in his opening remarks at the April 4 meeting of Diaz’ New York Hispanic Clergy Organization joking that “If Obama who came from Africa and grew up over there can become the President, why can’t any of you reach as high considering you have a more amusing [ethnic] mix than Obama’s?”
While Diaz is shown roaring with laughter along with the rest of the audience, Mejia’s comment has been roundly condemned on the island nation, with 31 of its 32 senators there sending a letter of apology to President Obama.
But as for local city and state electeds at the luncheon, they’ve so far apparently remained silent in condemning the remark – and the response from the politically powerful Diaz and the roomful of conservative Hispanic preachers – whose congregations represent a strong voting bloc.
That includes upper Manhattan state Sen. Adriano Espaillat, who’s challenging Rep. Charlie Rangel in a newly redrawn district taking in Espaillat’s district and a newly-added, heavily Dominican western swath of the Bronx.
Also among fellow elected Dominican-Americans in the audience were northern Manhattan City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez and Assemblyman Guillermo Linares, Bronx Councilmember Fernando Cabrera (who’s half Puerto Rican), Assemblymen Marcos Crespo and Nelson Castro and Castro’s female district leader Yudelka Tapia.
Mejia, who has The Rev’s endorsement, also told the group that as president he would never allow gays to marry or weaken the island’s strict anti-abortion laws. Diaz, a conservative-leaning Democrat, fought bitterly against the state legislature’s approval of same-sex marriage and has led a number of anti-abortion protests.
While the story apparently hasn’t made any ink in the English-language media, it showed up on a local blog with the video.
It also showed up in an email sent out on Monday by Bronx political player and former Obama campaign operative Haile Rivera, who called on Mejia to personally apologize to Obama.
We tried in vain all day Tuesday to connect with Diaz, who was in Albany.
If we had, we’d hoped to also bring up an interesting sidenote.
The Rev has been denying for a number of years a persistent rumor that he was really born in the Dominican Republic and not in Puerto Rico.
But we’re sure he can easily clear the issue up, by producing his birth certificate ….
Bob Kappstatter, the former long-time Bronx Bureau Chief and columnist for the Daily News, is an occasional contributor to Bronx Matters.