SPOTLIGHT ON: Eliezer Rodriquez, Esq.
Mary Prenon | July 2020
A Passion for Real Estate and Baseball Legends
Eliezer Rodriguez, Esq. has been a baseball fan for as long as he can remember. One of his favorite players, Roberto Clemente, was actually the first Hispanic elected into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. “I saw him play and I used to imitate him all the time,” remembered the CEO of the former Bronx-Manhattan North Association of Realtors (BMNAR). “To me, it was Babe Ruth who saved baseball, Jackie Robinson who changed it, but Roberto Clemente who was the pulse of major league baseball.”
At that time, little did Rodriguez know that one day he would personally complete Clemente’s mission of providing much needed aid to thousands in Nicaragua, who are still today experiencing the devastation of a major earthquake in 1972.
Together with the former BMNAR, Rodriguez is now part of the Hudson Gateway Association of Realtors (HGAR), in a recent merger approved by both associations’ Boards of Directors. An attorney for many years, he joined BMNAR in 2013, but still maintains a solo practice and provides pro bono services to the New York League of Puerto Rican Women.
It was that giving spirit that led Rodriguez to put his law practice on hold in 2000, to create Project Club Clemente, Inc., which was dedicated to promoting, educating and celebrating the legacy of Roberto Clemente. On Dec. 31, 2005, the project delivered 16,324 pounds of food and medicine to Nicaragua, fulfilling a 33-year old promise that Clemente had made to the earthquake victims. Clemente died in a plane crash on that same date in 1972 while trying to deliver supplies. The plane went down at sea and ironically at the time, Clemente was playing for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
“Clemente had done some training in Nicaragua, and seemed to establish a love affair with that country,” explained Rodriguez. “He was a hero and when he died, the world lost a great humanitarian.” Rodriguez ran several fundraisers and used his own savings to complete the mission. “I did spend a lot of money, but I just couldn’t get it out of my mind. It was so important for me to complete what Clemente died trying to do. It was really one of the greatest accomplishments of my life.” A documentary on the event is now in development and Rodriguez is also working on a screenplay entitled, “The Light in the Shadow.”
As a solo law practitioner, Rodriguez covered real estate, matrimonial and family law, wills and other areas. However, during this time, his focus was primarily on Project Club Clemente. After completing the mission, he got a quick reminder from his younger son that it was time to get back to work. “He was in Pre-K, and the teachers were asking children about what their parents did for a living. My son told them his mother was a lawyer, but said nothing about me,” he recalled. “When I told him, I was a lawyer too, he said ‘Well, you don’t have an office’!”
Rodriguez credits City University of New York (CUNY) School of Law for helping him to meet his wife Fiordaliza, who is now a judge in the Bronx Family Court. After graduating in 1999, the couple reconnected some time later. “We actually didn’t start dating until after law school. I used to run a study group, so she called me just to say hello and catch up. To this day, she still won’t admit why she called me, but I guess she missed me,” he quipped. “I’m also guessing she liked me because she ended up marrying me!”
While attending CUNY, Rodriguez also co-founded the Main Street Student Legal Defense Fund, to help interns in their service to indigent clients and to increase alumni involvement in public interest law. Based on his academic achievement and commitment to Public Interest Law, Rodriguez was selected by The Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund to receive the Father Joseph P. Fitzpatrick Scholarship for furthering the interests of Puerto Ricans, other Latinos and communities of color. At graduation, he was honored with the Theodore F. Kupferman Public Service Award for his service to the law school community.
His ties to the Hispanic community have always been strong. Born in Puerto Rico, Rodriguez and his family moved to north Philadelphia when he was still a baby. “It wasn’t the best area—we were often surrounded by crime and drugs—but my upbringing taught me that there was something more to life,” he said. “My school teachers also made a big difference in my life.”
Rodriguez got involved in theater and won a movie-writing competition that was later used by various schools for instructional purposes. A lover of “The Wizard of Oz,” Rodriguez created “The Wizard of Food,” aimed at helping children make good nutritional choices. “I even remember my characters—there was the ‘Malnutrition Witch,’ the ‘Thin Man,’ and the ‘Calorie Lion.’ The munchkins became the ‘munchies,’ and the Yellow Brick Road was renamed ‘The Milky Way,’” he laughed.
At 17, he joined the U.S. Army and became a sergeant in less than two years. Following his tour of duty, he attended Kansas State University, graduating with a degree in Speech, Pre-law and Social Science. In 1983, Rodriguez was selected among the “Outstanding Young Men of America,” but acknowledges that his proudest moment was becoming the first member of his family to earn a college degree.
Rodriguez moved to New York in 1986 and began an internship with the New York City Department of Sanitation in the area of creating recycling initiatives. He was later hired as a consultant and eventually a full-time recycling coordinator. He resigned to attend law school in 1996, and opened his first law firm in 2001.
While he still practices law, Rodriguez’ focus these days will be his new role with HGAR. “We had been talking about the merger for a while, and it’s in the best interest of both the Bronx and the Hudson Valley,” said Rodriguez. “We can offer a lot of great political connections and expertise in the commercial real estate sector, and we will benefit by being able to provide all of our Bronx members with the resources that a larger organization can offer. It’s really a great fit for both associations.”
Rodriguez will take the lead in expanding the HGAR’s Commercial and Investment Division (CID) and will play an active role in legislative advocacy. A Bronx resident, he will also be bringing additional events to the Bronx, which now consists of more than 1,500 HGAR members.”
In his spare time, Rodriguez is very active in his community and was appointed to serve as a member of Bronx Community Board 11 in 2006. Since 2008, he has been coaching his own children and others at the Van Nest Baseball Little League. “Coaching has always been a passion of mine, and I like working with kids – some who don’t have a lot. I know what it’s like when you don’t have much growing up and I never forgot that. I just want to be able to help,” he said. Today, his son Miguel Clemente is 18 and Cristian Marin is 15.
His many professional affiliations include: board member for the East Harlem Council for Human Services; chairman of SEEDCO, a national non-profit community development organization dedicated to promoting economic advancement; affordable housing co-chair for Acacia Network, and board member of the New York State Appraisal Board. Last year, Rodriguez was recognized by City and State as one of the 100 Most Noteworthy Figures in the Bronx.
He and his family do visit Puerto Rico about every other year, but Rodriguez admits he likes being closer to home. “I believe in being one-on-one with the local community,” he said. “Love thy neighborhood has always been part of my pastime. Everything I do for the community, also helps to protect my family. I really care about what happens here.”