NEWSZENTS: Pa. — In 1997, Ted Cruz was a young lawyer on the climb when a pressing family matter pulled him to a seedy motel outside Philadelphia.
His half sister Miriam Cruz was living there, spiraling deeper into drug addiction. She was neglecting her young son. And Mr. Cruz was determined to steer her back on track.
With a “really studious schoolboy look,” Mr. Cruz walked up the steps of the motel, his appearance notable at a place where rooms rented by the hour and unsavory characters lurked behind drawn curtains, said Michael Gunning, Ms. Cruz’s boyfriend at the time.
But after a long lunch with Mr. Cruz and their father, Rafael Cruz, Ms. Cruz was unmoved, Mr. Gunning said. Within months, she and Mr. Gunning were arrested at the motel for fighting with several men during a drug deal. In their room, a police report noted, officers found two crack pipes.
With his sharp intellect and steely resolve, Ted Cruz has propelled himself through one accomplishment after another: Princeton, Harvard Law, aSupreme Court clerkship, the United States Senate, and now a strong contender for the Republican presidential nomination.
But as his own life was taking off, his half sister’s was going in the opposite direction, a snowballing misery of bad choices, bad luck and, most of all, a losing battle with drugs.
Through her Mr. Cruz became acquainted with a world far from the towers of the Ivy League and the corridors of power — so far that several of Ms. Cruz’s friends interviewed recently did not even know Mr. Cruz was running for president.
He fielded phone calls from his half sister when she landed in jail. He kept tabs on her as she bounced from boyfriend to boyfriend, job to job, and in and out of rehab. He took a particular interest in making sure that her son was cared for, including taking out a large credit card advance to send him to a military-themed boarding school. Ms. Cruz, friends said, came to look up to her younger half brother and rely on his help.
But Mr. Cruz, accustomed to achieving everything he set his mind to, also learned the limits of what he could accomplish. Despite periods of sobriety, Ms. Cruz continued in her drug abuse and arrests until 2011, when she died of an accidental overdose in a bedroom strewn with prescription pill bottles.
“This is a problem that for me I understand firsthand,” Mr. Cruz said during a presidential debate when asked about the country’s drug epidemic. He then pressed his case for strengthening the border to, in part, stem the flow of illegal drugs.
But at a less guarded moment, during a forum on addiction in New Hampshire last month, Mr. Cruz was uncharacteristically introspective
But at a less guarded moment, during a forum on addiction in New Hampshire last month, Mr. Cruz was uncharacteristically introspective.
“You know as a family, you wonder, ‘Could I have done more?’” he said. “Was there a way to pull her back? Was there a way to change the path she was on? Those are the questions you never fully answer.”
‘10 Pounds of Dynamite’
Mr. Cruz declined to be interviewed for this article about his half sister. But in his memoir, “A Time for Truth,” and occasionally during the campaign, Mr. Cruz has spoken of his relationship with Miriam, one of two daughters from the first marriage of their father, Rafael Cruz.
Miriam was a frequent visitor to the new family of Rafael Cruz, letting his toddler son Ted, nine years younger, pull on her hair and play with her for hours.
As a teenager, Ted would sometimes spend the night with Miriam and her husband, Larry Maykopet, who lived a few blocks away from the Cruz home in Houston, Mr. Maykopet said.
Mr. Cruz said in his book that Mr. Maykopet physically abused Ms. Cruz. Friends of Ms. Cruz’s said she told them the same thing.
In an interview, Mr. Maykopet said he had never abused Ms. Cruz. He said their relationship ended in 1987, a couple of years after their son, Joseph Maykopet, was born, when he returned to his native Illinois to serve a prison sentence. In 1993, they divorced.
By that time, Ms. Cruz and their young son were settled in Delaware County, Pa., outside Philadelphia. At first, they enjoyed a stable life. Ms. Cruz had a well-paying office job, and was in a relationship with a caring postal worker, said Dawn Dyer, a close friend of Ms. Cruz’s.
Ms. Cruz also liked to have fun. She and Ms. Dyer would go to karaoke bars, where Ms. Cruz, a petite woman with long hair, would belt out “La Bamba” and sip on Seagram’s and 7Up.