Updated: Feb 15
Ray Vann | on February 11, 2021
Ruben Dario Cruz is a man who knows hardship. Born in 1960’s East New York and one of the first Puerto Rican kids in Richmond Hill, Cruz grew up surviving on government programs while dodging bullies all around him. Rather than cave into those hardships, however, Cruz has grown from them, becoming a truly independent individual as he plots his run for the City Council District 32 seat this year.
“One thing that bugs me is this new trend of candidates saying ‘join Team Tom’… I decided that my team is not going to be Team Cruz or Team Ruben. My team is going to be Team Majestic Seahorse,” Cruz said of his decision to run as an independent in this year’s race, noting how too often the current parties alienate people on certain beliefs.
“The fighting that’s going on in the Democrat party… that’s not a team,” Cruz added. “Team Majestic Seahorse, we celebrate the diversity of the team, not only ethnicity, but people from all political views. Which means there might be fighting and arguing but we are getting to the issues.”
Together with his wife, Cruz owns and operates Jurukan Incorporated, which helps provide programming for senior citizens across the city.
“What we do is we engage seniors,” Cruz explained of his company. “My focus is on health and wellness, and arts and education… we have workshops that can be anything from arts and crafts to making a movie… we have dance classes, English as a second language the whole spectrum for health and wellness and arts and culture.”
It is his passion for helping people and solving problems – a passion he displays every day with Jurukan – that drove him to run for City Council this year. And one of the most important problems Cruz hopes to fix as a councilman is the state of the education system – something which he says can be dramatically improved through a proper implementation of remote learning.
Remote learning, Cruz says, could pave the ultimate way to end school segregation by enabling children from all across the city to virtually and easily plug into high quality programs. Broadening on that idea, Cruz says that it could even be possible to open those remote school programs to international students as well, enabling international students to pay in and supplement the DOE budget while also receiving an education from the New York School system.
“That could help with our budget a bit, and it could expand New York as a leader in education,” Cruz said. “I would love for my child to be in a class with a kid from Nepal, and kid from Italy, and so on.”
Cruz also would like to see a “gifted and talented teacher program,” that would see some of the best teachers in the city receive an extra salary increase to travel around the city, spending a year at a time in schools and working to enhance the education at each campus they set up in.
The one issue that Cruz is most passionate about, however, was housing.
“The housing situation really pisses me off,” Cruz told The Wave. “The city always says they have no money – they have money, they took away the money.”
In order to help lift up those currently living in NYCHA buildings, Cruz advocates for privatizing those buildings. Under his plan, the city would sell residents their homes for just $1 – something he says the city has done with entire buildings in the Lower East Side before – and then allow those residents to actually own their apartments for themselves.
“NYCHA housing has some of the best views. An apartment there could have a real value of what, 200? 300? $400,000?” Cruz said. “The net worth of a person could increase by hundreds of thousands over night. You might have to pay a few bucks more – maybe $50 or $100 more – but the apartment will be yours.”
And as for those who worried about how privatization might impact their benefits, Cruz has a message:
“I grew up on welfare, and it’s a lot like imprisonment,” he says. “When the gate is open, some people go back to the corner, they don’t go out the door. That freedom is scary. I get it. It’s a challenge… but now you have a chance. You see, we’ve become put into a system and we want to stay there, because it’s something that you know. They might want to scare you with ‘now there will be taxes, etc.’ But guess what, now we can be one of you – we can be respected. You can walk out the door with a little more pride, and when you have that mindset things change.”
Finally, Cruz also wants to see stricter animal welfare legislation enforced, namely the ban on the sale of animals in pet shops, and the elimination of the horse and carriage industry. Perhaps most interestingly, Cruz says he wants to see food security programs for animals put in place as well.
“It’s hard sometimes for people,” Cruz said. “Some people can’t always afford to feed their pets, and they just feed them scraps, and they get unhealthy. I want to change that.”
And Cruz has actually put his money where his mouth is when it comes to animal food security as well. Last October, Cruz held animal food pantries within the district which handed out pet food to pet parents amidst the pandemic, ensuring that local animals would be able to eat even while their owners were feeling financial strain from COVID shutdowns.
The primaries for this year’s city council election are June 22, and the final election date is November 2.