At Harvard Diaz Ties In New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg In Three Months Teaching As Fellow
Written by Yudislaidy Fernandez on April 15, 2010
By Yudislaidy Fernandez
After eight years leading Miami as mayor, Manny Diaz took a break from politics to teach.
Mr. Diaz has spent the past three months as a resident fellow at Harvard University’s Institute of Politics, leading study groups and frequently featuring guest speakers such as New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley and Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson.
"It’s been a great experience," Mr. Diaz said Tuesday from Cambridge, MA. "The students are great. We’ve had lots of conversations about governing in general, leadership and the state of the country."
Mr. Diaz left office right before the city was plagued with a series of financial and political scandals, among them the removal of two commissioners, an ongoing federal financial investigation and the recent arrests and removal of several city employees.
At the institute in the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Mr. Diaz has organized sessions focusing on topics like education, sustainability, urban planning and rebuilding America after the recession.
After leaving sunny South Florida, his first adjustment was getting used to the cold weather, Mr. Diaz joked.
He said his experience as mayor came in handy for many of the topics. For example, in the urban planning session he discussed Miami 21, the city’s highly-debated zoning code approved a month before Mr. Diaz ended his second term.
Mr. Diaz also shared with students his humble beginnings, including his first job as a school janitor and how student loans allowed him to go to law school.
In study groups, he said he stresses the key role cities play as the economic engine and the importance of investing in them long-term.
Mr. Diaz, whose fellowship ends this month, has taught graduate students from the Kennedy School of Government and those from other Harvard programs like business.
He has also been working one-on-one with many of the school’s Latino students, particularly those from South Florida.
For example, he said, last month he participated in a march the student body organized in support of Damas de Blanco, or Ladies in White, a group of Cuban women whose relatives are imprisoned on the island for opposing the government. The university’s march was held the same day Miami organized its highly-attended demonstration.
Teaching at Harvard, he says, has taught him that the next generation of leaders is committed to public service.
"Many of them will take on jobs in places like Wall Street, but they are always going to have a sense, wherever they go, that they are going to be active and commit to public service," he said. "And many will go back to the cities they are from and get involved themselves in local issues."
After he concludes teaching this month, Mr. Diaz plans to return to Miami to practice law full time.
He’s joining Richard Lydecker’s Miami law firm, Lydecker Lee Berga & de Zayas, and is to lead the corporate and transaction department, to be named Lydecker Diaz.
When he’s not representing clients, Mr. Diaz plans an advocacy role. Among issues he says he’ll continue to support are digital equality and the environment. He’s to also dedicate time to sit on the board of the Bloomberg Family Foundation, to which he was appointed last month.
"Harvard was the first step in the process," he said, "but I plan to be involved with policy for the rest of my life."