UNINSPIRING seems to be the word most often attached to Philadelphia's current field of mayoral hopefuls.
Don't tell that to the more than 100 people who were on the dance floor at Tierra Colombiana yesterday to hear former Common Pleas Judge Nelson Diaz formally announce his candidacy during a stump speech focused on economic and educational equality.
Salsa music. Empanadas and plantains. The occasional shout of "Puerto Rico!" and "Arriba! Arriba!"
Maybe Diaz, 67, is a long shot when matched up against political heavies like Lynne Abraham and Anthony Williams, but it didn't feel that way inside the Hunting Park restaurant and club. The crowd seemed pretty . . . inspired.
"We have a responsibility to look out for each other and ensure that every man, woman and child in Philadelphia has the opportunity to get a quality education, to pursue any career, to live out any future that they can imagine," said Diaz, who grew up in a low-income household in Harlem.
Diaz, a former city solicitor who had been exploring a mayoral run since September, touted his life as a "story of firsts," including becoming the first Puerto Rican to graduate from Temple Law and pass the state bar exam and the state's first elected Latino judge.
Diaz told the audience, which included former Councilman Angel Ortiz and former state Rep. Ralph Acosta, that he'd push for stable funding for public schools, as well as universal pre-K and increased support for teachers. He said small businesses need better access to capital through organizations like the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation.
"Latinos want a leader that's going to give them the opportunity to participate in economic development and education. They'll take whoever. If the person is pink, they'll take the person that's pink if you can provide for them a good education and a quality opportunity to succeed," he told reporters after his announcement.
Diaz is the second Latino to enter the race, joining Ken Trujillo, 54, a Mexican-American and former city solicitor who says he has the ability to self-fund a campaign, if necessary. Both men, however, also would have to appeal to voters outside of the city's fractious Latino community in order to have a shot at mayor.
"Ken welcomes anyone in the race who loves Philadelphia as much as he does and wants to have a conversation about its future," said Trujillo spokeswoman Lauren Hitt.
Yesterday, Diaz was eager to converse, despite a campaign staffer trying to peel him away from the press.
"The reason I'm in this race is: One, I know I can win, and, two, I'm going to fix the school systems no matter what," he said. "I will die fixing those school systems."