Temple trustee Nelson Diaz, a former judge who now practices law, announced his intent to compete for nomination as the Democratic candidate for Mayor of Philadelphia in the 2015 election. Diaz, rumored as a potential candidate since March 2013, finally made the official announcement to reporters Thursday at Tierra Colombiana, a popular Colombian and Cuban restaurant in the Hunting Park neighborhood.
Diaz, a trustee since 1992, did not return phone messages and emails requesting comment left at his office in the Dilworth Paxson law firm, located on JFK Boulevard. across from City Hall.
The candidate told reporters that the primary focus of his platform is addressing issues within the School District of Philadelphia. The Inquirer quoted Diaz saying at his candidacy announcement: “I’m going to fix the school system, no matter what. I will die fixing the school system.”
In a December interview with the Latino newspaper Al Día, Diaz also showed concern about the poverty rate in Philadelphia, and claimed that Philadelphia was really “two cities” instead of one in terms of wealth.
“We need somebody who will finally take care of the 28 percent poverty rate in our city and the fact that 9 out of 10 kids are just not finishing school,” Diaz told Al Dia. “There are two cities here, the wealthy in Center City and the poor in the neighborhoods. We can’t have two cities, we need one city and we need to provide employment opportunities for everybody and education for everybody.”
Diaz’ announcement comes on the heels of City Council President Darrell Clarke, long-rumored to be the likely Democratic candidate for mayor in 2015, announcing that he would not run. Since then, a prominent labor leader asked City Controller Alan Butkovitz, who had said he would not run, to reconsider.
The prospect pool for the Democratic nomination also includes former District Attorney Lynne Abraham, Councilman James Kenney, State Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams and Ken Trujillo, a former city solicitor and head of Congreso, a Latino service organization. Both Trujillo and Diaz are attempting to court the Latino vote.
When asked for comment on the trustee’s shot at the candidacy, a university spokesman offered a short statement.
“Temple University is proud to have Nelson Diaz as a member of our Board of Trustees and wish him well,” the spokesman told The Temple News.
In a November 2013 interview, Diaz told The Temple News how he earned his law degree at Temple’s Beasley School of Law in 1972 as its first Puerto Rican student. He was critical of the school at the time for not doing enough to help low-income students.
“That’s why we became state-related in the first place,” Diaz said. “Temple isn’t Harvard. It’s for working-class kids who scrapped hard to overcome past issues.”
Diaz served in a number of different government offices. He was the first Latino to be elected as a judge in Pennsylvania, serving in the Court of Common Pleas in Philadelphia from 1981 to 1993, and then was appointed as general counsel to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development from 1993 to 1997 by then-President Bill Clinton.
Diaz also served as a city solicitor under former Mayor John Street from 2001 until 2004. Diaz also currently serves on the Board of Trustees for the Philadelphia Museum of Art and PECO’s Board of Directors alongside Temple University.
The registered Democrat, first announced his candidacy on Dec. 12 at the Pennsylvania Society in New York City.
CORRECTION: A version of this story which appeared in print on Jan. 20 referred to Diaz as a former federal judge. Diaz served in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, which is not a federal court.
Christian Matozzo can be reached at email@example.com