Last November, Ritchie Torres made history when he was voted to the city council in the Bronx. At just 25, Torres became the youngest member of New York’s City Council, a position that has historically been seen as a stepping stone to mayor.
Councilman Torres also became the first openly gay candidate to be elected to legislative office in the Bronx.
“I’m the only LGBT black-Latino elected in the state of New York,” Torres, now 26, told Fusion. “It can be a challenge to be openly gay in the Bronx. Running for public office was in some sense the ultimate coming out.”
Just a few months ago police said they were investigating a possible hate crime and attack on a transgender woman. And in late 2010, a handful of young men were charged with abudction, unlawful imprisonment and sodomy — all hate crimes. Police said the victim was targeted for being gay.
For Councilman Torres, he hoped his run for office would inspire others in his community.
“The Bronx remains a closeted borough but every so often, you have a young LGBT person of color tell me how inspired and how they see me as an example of what is possible.”
That’s the power of visibility, he said. But getting there was not an easy journey.
Torres has made public housing his driving platform in his short career in public life. New York has the largest public housing authority in North America. In the Bronx — the city’s poorest borough — 103,787 residents call public housing home, according to the latest figures released by the New York City Housing Authority.
“There are many issues that I care about, but my core focus is affordable housing,” he said. “It prevents hundreds of thousands of families from falling into homelessness. My mother who lives in public housing would be homeless without it.”
Public housing was also where Torres was raised before he got his start in politics, working behind the scenes for his local councilman. He later became housing director, dropped out of college and eventually made a run for office.
He was up against attornies, a pastor, and even the chief of staff of the outgoing councilmember.
He said he thought he would lose. Voters were struck by how young he was, but that proved to be his advantage.
“Then there was a sense maybe his youth is a symbol of a departure of the politics of the past, of social change,” he added.
Credit: Darwin Phillips and Jess Blank