Aries Dela Cruz: Not interested in becoming NYC mayor

‘My new job is not necessarily difficult, just more exhausting.’ Facebook photos

‘My new job is not necessarily difficult, just more exhausting.’ Facebook photos

By Cristina DC Pastor

The appointment in April of Aries Dela Cruz as Manhattan Regional Representative for Governor Andrew Cuomo was both good and bad news for the Filipino community of New York City.

Bad, because he had to step down as president of the emerging Filipino American Democratic Club, which he founded in 2016. Good, because his new job opens a sliver of a pathway for Aries, a grassroots political organizer, to possibly become the first Filipino mayor of New York.

“I do not want to become mayor of New York,” declared Aries, smiling, when asked by The FilAm if being mayor is in his line of sight if not in his peripheral vision. He was amused because it’s a question often asked of him by Filipinos and the FilAm media.

“It is a really hard job,” he quickly added.

Perhaps the question was posed too early. Aries is only 33 years old, quite new to NYC politics’ inner circle. But he is fast rising, appears to have good connections, and, given his Columbia University education and his vigorous work organizing Democrats in his FilAm community and his West Harlem neighborhood, has what it takes to advance to the top.

Before his appointment to the governor’s office, he oversaw digital strategy and operations for Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer. After a little more than a year, he was offered his current position. One of the people who put in a good word for him was Matthew Rubin, his predecessor. Rubin has moved on to Cuomo’s campaign team.

He continued to explain why being mayor, or any elective position, is not something he would seek out.

Aries at 4 years old in the Philippines.

Aries at 4 years old in the Philippines.

“I always enjoyed just being behind the scenes,” he said. “I’m not very flashy. Low key…That’s really more of my style. And I think that’s why I was picked for this position. I’m more interested in solving problems without being super showy.”

Another reason has to do with the public’s expectation, at least in an American democracy, of elected officials as the archetypal public servants.

He said, “When you’re elected everyone is your boss. They really expect you to cater to them. I have seen members of the public accost and berate their local elected officials, like, ‘You work for me.’”

He is not averse to seeking out higher level positions, but draws the line against elective posts.

As Cuomo’s Manhattan representative, Aries’s responsibility is to establish relationships with all the elected officials in the borough. That includes the office of Borough President Gale Brewer, the NYC Council, and occasionally, the state legislators. Cuomo has regional representatives in all the five boroughs.

“What we do as his regional representatives is we present awards, proclamations, but we also have governmental functions, like when things happen with the environment or with the state health department if there’s an issue with nursing homes, there’s labor issues,” he said. It’s a position where, he remarked in jest, one has to be a “schmoozer but also know how to get things done.”

The Filipino American Democratic Club (FADC) of New York, founded in April 2016, is in the process of deciding who should lead now that Aries is part of the state government. He sees his future role to be that of an adviser. He would want Filipinos, as a community, to become “more engaged, more involved” and not just in a partisan way, but in matters that affect real lives. He would want to see FilAms attend school board meetings or become more informed about issues.

At the May 21 New York State Democratic Party Convention at Hofstra University on Long Island.

At the May 21 New York State Democratic Party Convention at Hofstra University on Long Island.

“Yes, there was Filipinos for Hillary, Filipinos for Bernie and all those, but I was thinking why these groups are only around every four years,” he said, a tinge of disappointment in his voice. “The Democratic Party is much more than the president but is also your local school board, for example.”

While being united is important for a community to access resources, Aries believes the lack of a coherent voice is not exclusive to FilAms. “No ethnic group is ever united,” he said. “I know because I worked with many ethnic groups in Manhattan.”

“I always tell people politics is not just a fun thing, there are actually things (that are involved), people’s immigration status, people’s jobs. It’s much more than these fundraisers, fun rallies, we’re actually trying to get real things done,” he said.

Born in the Philippines in 1985, a turbulent time leading to the EDSA revolution, Aries came to the U.S. at the age of 7. It was also a time of heightened political discussion around the country, as well as in his home where his parents talked of the future of Philippine democracy after the fall of the Marcos Dictatorship.

“That was a really scary time,” he said. “What I learned from that and what was imparted to me is that democracy is really special and precious; it’s not something you can kind of ignore if you’re going to be an adult.”

Aries was a doctoral student at Rutgers when he launched the 2016 campaign urging NIKE to drop Manny Pacquiao as a spokesperson because of his homophobic remarks comparing gay people to animals. The campaign was a success, it heralded the founding of the FilAm Democratic club.

“Hopefully, it’s got a legacy that will continue,” he said.

© The FilAm 2017

With Filipino American Democratic Club Vice President Steven Raga.

With Filipino American Democratic Club Vice President Steven Raga.

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