On his campaign swing through New York City last week, GOP presidential candidate Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) faced hostility from black and Hispanic voters to whom he reached out.
In the Bronx, protesters loudly reminded Cruz that he was in an “immigrant community.” Police removed these outspoken demonstrators. One Bronx school — the Bronx Lighthouse College Preparatory Academy — actually cancelled his planned visit after students wrote a letter threatening a walkout if Cruz showed up.
But in Brooklyn, Cruz seemed to impress a group of black business and community leaders last Thursday night.
Cruz entered the Brooklyn Marriott’s conference room and shook hands with every person in the front row before sitting down before the audience at a small table beside John Burnett, the event’s organizer.
“I asked that today’s discussion be focused on four key areas of empowerment,” said Burnett, a local Republican politico who ran for New York City Comptroller in 2013.
The evening’s subjects of discussion included education, job creation, criminal justice reform and entrepreneurship.
“For each piece of legislation, I always consider whether this decision will create opportunity,” said Cruz to the 35 or so participants. “Opportunity for the vulnerable; opportunity for those struggling to climb up the economic ladder.”
Cruz recounted his life and the struggles and benefits afforded his father as a Cuban immigrant who climbed that very ladder.
The senator shared the story of Sabina Loving, the single mom from Chicago’s South Side whose cause he championed in Senate hearings last October. Loving opened a tax preparation business in her inner-city neighborhood, only to become a victim of what Cruz calls “over-regulation.” The IRS objected to her one-woman tax-preparation practice and required that she and others like her receive licenses or go out of business.
Lawyers and accountants were exempt from that licensing requirement, said Cruz. But that permit would have cost Loving thousands of dollars that she could not afford, Cruz said. Ultimately, she would have to shut down.
“There’s no greater obstacle to growth than invasive government regulations,” said Cruz.
At one point, as Cruz spoke, a Muslim attendee’s phone announced the call of the evening prayer. A melodic “Allahu akbar” distracted the listeners, but Cruz continued his comments without missing a beat.
His wife, Heidi, would make entrepreneurship her cause celebre as first lady, Cruz said.
Cruz’s wife and her brother started a bread-baking business from their home when they were children. Heidi was only 8 years old when she came home after school to bake bread with her brother and deliver the product.
“Who could refuse a little girl knocking on the door to sell bread,” said Cruz. “They made thousands of dollars in their little enterprise.”
Cruz seemed to satisfy his audience.
"He changed a lot of my thoughts about him," said Jineea Butler. She had heard Cruz speak years ago at a Republican event to a larger audience and described him as "robotic."
"But up close, he was actually human," said Butler
Butler said she wants to see more capital investment into urban communities, but was most interested in Cruz's comments on education.
When asked about school closures and violence in low-achieving schools, Cruz spoke about how parents would be more empowered with school choice.
"He had compassion, but I don't think he knew the depth of what our kids are going through," said Butler, who works with children at the Madison Square Boys and Girls Club at the Navy Yard in Brooklyn.
“I found him to be thoughtful, sharp and very honest,” said Darius Mayfield, co-founder of Marvelus Management. His company provides business development services for companies based in New York City.
Mayfield was impressed with Cruz’s answers on entrepreneurship and reviving small businesses.
Cruz may need many more events like this to overcome his low standing among New York voters, according to recent opinion polls. In the most recent Fox News poll, Cruz trailed 39 points behind GOP front-runner and native New Yorker Donald Trump.
As for Mayfield, he started the evening as a confirmed Trump supporter, but he appreciated Ted Cruz’s candid conversation.
“He definitely gave me some pause for thought, said Mayfield. “He did open his eyes enough to consider supporting him if he is the nominee.”