George Diaz Jr., a progressive who unsuccessfully challenged state Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz in the 2020 primaries, is throwing his hat into the ring again.
Diaz’s candidacy marks the second primary challenge to Dinowitz, after Progressive Jessica Woolford, a former U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand spokeswoman, announced her candidacy for the same spot last month.
Diaz told the Bronx Times he initially decided to run in 2020 because he thought it was “ridiculous” that Dinowitz won a special election in 1994 — then 13 consecutive elections — and had never been challenged in a primary. That year, Dinowitz, a Riverdale Democrat, won his 14th general election for the 81st Assembly District, after defeating Diaz 64%-36% in the Democratic primary.
“I’m not gonna let this guy get another two years without having to work for it and just be ushered in,” Diaz told the Bronx Times.
The 39-year-old works as a docket specialist for law firm DLA Piper and used to work for former City Councilman Oliver Koppell, who also served in the state Assembly and was the state attorney general in 1994.
Diaz is the former third vice president of the NAACP’s Bronx branch and is part of Concerned Citizens for Change, Northwest Bronx Indivisible and Bronx Progressives.
He has lived in Norwood since he was 12-years-old, the same year Dinowitz began representing the district in the state Legislature. Originally from Mott Haven, Diaz has also lived in Kingsbridge and Wakefield.
The Bronxite said he wants to push for the creation of a permanent and independent public integrity bureau within the Attorney General’s office dedicated to investigating public employees and elected officials. Diaz also believes voters should have a larger say, with more referendums on ballots and all judges elected, not appointed.
After his experience juggling work to afford college classes, Diaz believes SUNY schools should have free in-state tuition and CUNY schools should be free for New York City residents. While the Excelsior Scholarship program was implemented to provide free tuition for middle-class New Yorkers, Diaz said it requires going through hoops and not everyone qualifies.
Additionally, he believes there should be more state funding for subways, which are riddled with disability issues. He also said landlords should be held criminally liable, saying neglectful housing conditions and tenant intimidation are a form of domestic violence.
When asked about his campaign’s focus — beyond saying the district can do better than what it has — Diaz said he wants to turn the tables, asking people what their concerns are.
“What are they going to talk about at the dinner table?” he said. “A lot of politics is really based on that. We can talk about all these great things we want to do, and they’re all worth fighting for. But we also need to be able to talk to people about those kitchen-table issues.”
While Dinowitz, 66, told the Bronx Times he doesn’t know how competitive the 2022 primary race will be, he said he will treat it like the toughest race in history.
But he said Diaz’s 2020 primary bid didn’t pose a “very vigorous challenge.”
Diaz told the Bronx Times his campaign is in a better financial position this time around, and he has more opportunities to campaign in person with the COVID-19 pandemic being less debilitating than it was in 2020. Plus, the 2020 race afforded him the opportunity to get his name out to voters.
The district includes Riverdale, Kingsbridge, Van Cortlandt Village, Kingsbridge Heights, Marble Hill, Norwood, Woodlawn and Wakefield.
Diaz said that as an elected official, he would hold other politicians accountable.
“My dad likes to remind me regularly, politics is a dirty game,” Diaz said. “And he’s right. But the game is going to stay dirty as long as a lot of us just feel disaffected and decide we’re just going to leave things alone. We’re accepting the status quo, but the status quo hasn’t worked for us.”
Diaz believes Dinowitz hasn’t paid enough attention to his neighborhood of Norwood or Wakefield, where his grandparents — who moved to New York from Puerto Rico — lived.
Members of the New York State Assembly make $110,000 annually plus per diem, and their terms last two years. The primary is scheduled for June 28, 2022.
Reach Aliya Schneider at [email protected] or (718) 260-4597. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes.