The Luckiest Man in Hoboken
A trip down a Democratic memory lane with Assemblyman Ruben Ramos Jr.
Ruben Ramos Jr. is climbing up the political ladder. Fast.
But, the Assemblyman for the 33rd District and former Hoboken City Council President said, "I don't see myself running for statewide office."
In 1999 Ramos got elected to the Fourth Ward council seat, as a (self-described) "one trick pony" at age 24.
"I didn't think I would win," he said. "I just wanted to highlight the neglected Housing Authority." With the campaign he wanted to point out that the needs of the residents there weren't being met.
Roughly 10 years later, Ramos is in his second term in the New Jersey General Assembly and has recently been named treasurer of the Democratic State Committee.
And although he said he has no ambitions to seek a higher office, he doesn't rule it out completely. "Hey I work hard," Ramos said. "I'll continue to work hard." Ultimately, though, he said it has to fit right with raising a young family. Ramos has a 2-year-old son, a 6-year-old daughter and a 19-year-old stepdaughter.
A few months into his first term as councilman in 1999, Ramos was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma, a type of cancer. The disease spread widely and quickly.
"I was sick that whole summer," Ramos said. "I knew something was wrong."
The disease, its rapid spread through Ramos' body, and his sudden and complete dependence on health care had a larger impact on Ramos' political career than he could have imagined.
Ramos, who teaches social studies at a public school in Paterson during the day, started thinking about what would have happened if he hadn't had health insurance. "How do you get better?" Ramos said. "I put myself in their shoes." With that principle in mind, he said, he pushed for a law as assemblyman that provides children with health insurance. The legislation was passed in July 2008.
In 2000, Robert Menendez asked Ramos to be on a democratic platform committee, in the lead-up to the elections between Al Gore and George Bush. Ramos traveled to Cleveland, and spoke about his disease and the need for health care to a room of Democrats from around the country.
After the speech, Ramos said, he got tapped on the shoulder by Democratic political analyst Donna Brazile. "She taps me on the shoulder!" Ramos recalled, still stunned at the memory.
Brazile asked him if he wanted to repeat that speech, he said, but to a larger room with a larger group of democrats: The Democratic National Convention. Ramos had just finished his last chemo therapy and hadn't yet been cleared by his doctor to fly (he took a train to Cleveland, he said).
Ramos accepted the offer, but went on vacation to the Dominican Republic with his girlfriend (now wife) before the DNC. Since he hadn't heard from anybody about his upcoming speech anymore, Ramos said he assumed it wasn't happening.
Unprepared and without a written speech, Ramos traveled to Los Angeles, where the DNC was held in 2000. Once there, he found out he was in fact on the agenda, he said, with roughly 24 hours before he was supposed to go on.
"I wrote the speech in 15 minutes," Ramos said. "I didn't have time to be nervous."
And at 2 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2000, Ramos addressed the Democratic National Convention.
Among the many people he met there were Bill Clinton (Ramos passed him in the Green room as the President was listening to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who was then running to become U.S. Senator of New York) and former New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine, he said. During a recent interview in his office, Ramos recalled the events of these days in great detail, still smiling at the memories and shaking his head in disbelief.
"I'm like Forrest Gump," Ramos said.
When asked about some of the current issues facing Hoboken City Council, Ramos responded that he's a local Hoboken taxpayer, "just like everyone else." He no longer attends council meetings and only rarely watches them online, he said.
The Council's discussions and workshops about a budget that hasn't been passed, however, do stir up some memories.
"We had these budget workshops all the time," Ramos said. Cutting a budget in the last three months of a fiscal year (fiscal years start on July 1) is hard, he said. "Everything is spent already." Ramos left City Council in 2009.
Ramos focuses more on issues for the district now, since he is no longer just representing Hoboken.
"The district always comes first," he said.
Among the issues on his plate, Ramos said he especially wants to focus on creating jobs. As chairman of the commerce committee, he said, he's working on legislation to help create jobs and put people back to work.
On a recent Tuesday afternoon, Ramos sat in his office on Hudson Street after a day of teaching, enjoying the trip down memory lane. Being an assemblyman has the ability to take up all of his time, Ramos said. With a Blackberry always at hand, he's on call 24/7.
But, as our interview came to a close, it was clear that Ramos had only one immediate priority: getting his daughter to soccer practice on time.