Nelson Diaz talks surfing in Puerto Rico, attending Temple Law School, and why education matters


For months, the six Democrats running for mayor of Philadelphia have been on a treadmill of public forums, debates, and meet-and-greets — chewing on a familiar slate of issues.

So, in an effort to break out of the well-worn political discourse, I’ll be having casual conversations with the candidates about their lives as well as a few pet issues in the next few weeks.

Next up is former Common Pleas Court judge Nelson Diaz, who was raised in Puerto Rico. And it’s easy to tell that he still has a fondness for it.

“When I was in college, I took a bunch of guys from Long Island [to Puerto Rico]. There were about 15 of us in a Volkswagen with all of the boards and everything else,” he said, recounting one story. “They all got sunburned. We had to put them in a hospital afterwards!” he said with a laugh.

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But events in Diaz’s youth also nudged him toward a career in public service, and drove him to become an activist while in law school at Temple University.

While there, Diaz organized a demonstration against the school’s dean after observing how difficult it was for women and minorities to become lawyers — and the white students joined in.

“The whole school was really in disruption with regard to the law school issue,” he recalled, “so there were problems not only with us but throughout.”

The protests led to a shake-up in the administration and the school totally changed, according to Diaz. It would later graduate such high-profile Philadelphians as former Mayor John Street, former City Councilwoman Augusta “Gussie” Clark, and U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador Maria Carmen Aponte.

“You had people who wanted to really do [public] service,” said Diaz, who has made education the pivotal issue of his campaign. “This education did a lot for them.”

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