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A Challenger Emerges for Bronx Senate Seat

Carlos Ramos is a candidate who says he knows firsthand the challenges of living in the poorest areas of the Bronx. Ramos, who is challenging New York State Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr., in the 32nd District in September’s Democratic primary, said he grew up in a single-parent home in Soundview with little guidance, mingled with friends from similarly low-income backgrounds and fell into trouble with the law.

Carlos Ramos (Photo courtesy of Carlos Ramos)

Carlos Ramos (Photo courtesy of Carlos Ramos)

“My journey was not an easy one,” said Ramos, 40, during a telephone interview Friday. As a teenager, he was sentenced to a short time in prison for a drug-related offense. “Eventually I did some soul-searching and I realized there was more to life,” he said.

Since that realization, Ramos said he has been dedicated to helping others in his community through his involvement in public service initiatives and grassroots organizations. He first became involved with a local Hispanic Democrats club in Westchester in 1998 and has since worked for national campaigns in Florida, Arizona and Pennsylvania before  returning to the Bronx to work for  William C. Thompson Jr., the former New York City comptroller.

It was during the 2009 Thompson campaign for mayor that Ramos said he found the inspiration to step forward as a candidate for the Senate. “There was a guy there helping us every day,” Ramos said. “I was sharing my idea with him that I was thinking about running, and he told me ‘If you run against Ruben Diaz, I promise to give you my last $20.’ ” Ramos said the volunteer was HIV-positive, living in a homeless shelter, surviving off government benefits and hurting because of a lack of political leadership. “The only way you’re going to get some leadership in there is to run,” he said.

Ramos thinks there is currently a lack of political leadership in the Bronx because elected officials have been pushed into office without obtaining the proper skills to lead. He attributes this to weaknesses in the current education system in public schools — one of the top priorities that he proposes to tackle if elected to the state Senate.

“We need to be prepared for all these new people that are moving in and have the proper school system for them,” he said. “And we need to better prepare the next generation of Bronx leaders.”

Job creation and affordable housing are the other big issues for Ramos. Too many residential buildings, he said, are owned by conglomerates who are dealing with the fallout of the recession. “What happens is their problems trickle down to the tenants,” he said. “Sometimes their services are not being met, their apartments are not being painted, or there’s no repairs being done. Many times the tenants don’t even know how to address these problems.”

Ramos says there is a “stark contrast” between himself and Diaz, both in their political ideologies and in their campaign methods. Social media plays an important part in getting his messages across and he thinks that the use of digital technology gives him an edge in fundraising. Diaz could not be reached for comment on the coming election.

Ramos said he received about 4,000 messages, mostly supportive, on the day his campaign went live, and that he has attracted campaign donations from across the United States.

“When we run the campaign, we’re going to have the latest technology to be able to micro-target voters,” Ramos said. “Diaz doesn’t have that advantage. They run campaigns the old-fashioned way.”

In an age where indiscretions by public figures are also amplified by social media and the Internet, Ramos believes that the mistakes of his past will not become an issue. “Many people in my community can identify with some of my challenges, so I’m not even worried about it,” he said. “When I talk to people, I’m very frank about it. It’s not something that I’m hiding. They’re actually glad that I’m doing what I’m doing.”

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