Though not even old enough to run for president, Ritchie Torres is already a historic figure in New York politics.
Currently a New York City Councilman, the 32-year-old just won the primary to represent his South Bronx district in the U.S. House of Representatives.
This is old hat for Torres, who became the youngest elected official in New York City history when he won his council seat in 2013.
“But seven years before then, I was at the lowest point in my life,” Torres said, speaking to Eyewitness News from Ciccarone Park in the South Bronx, where he used to play as a kid. “I was struggling with depression. I had dropped out of college. There were moments when I thought of taking my own life because I felt the world around me had collapsed.”
Afro-Latino, young, gay, and born in poverty, Torres doesn’t conform to the typical image of the stodgy, old lawmaker. He says the decision to enter politics stemmed from his poor upbringing in Bronx public housing and the influence of his family’s Hispanic roots.
“I am the product of wise Latinas, strong Puerto Rican women, my mother, and my grandmother,” Torres said. “I was raised by a single mother who had to raise three children on minimum wage, which in the 1990s was $4.25 an hour. So whether it’s housing or food insecurity, poverty, or inequality, the struggles of the South Bronx are not academic to me. These are struggles I’ve lived in my own life.”
Ritchie Torres: Youngest elected official in NYC history credits historic rise to Latino upbringing - WABC-TV https://t.co/VmzuADZW4A— AFRO🇵🇷RICAN (@afr0rican) September 21, 2020
At age 24, Torres described having a moment of clarity.
“I said to myself, rather than complain, why not become the change that I wish to see? Why not run for public office?”
Against all odds, he won the election for City Council in 2013. Since stepping into the role in 2014, Torres’ primary focus has been the issue closest to his heart: public housing. He’s exposed the dangers of lead paint contamination, secured millions for public housing complexes in the Bronx, and investigated what he calls, “slumlords,” including presidential advisor Jared Kushner.
Through it all, he hasn’t lost focus on the seismic shift in politics he represents.
“For the first time, many people are beginning to see a new generation of leadership that is every bit as diverse of America itself, coming not from places of privilege, but places of struggle.”
Torres also acknowledges he, “stands on the shoulders of giants,” when it comes to the Bronx’s history of Latino leaders, including Herman Badillo, Bobby Garcia, and Jose Serrano, whom he hopes to replace in Washington.
“When Jose Serrano became a member of Congress, I was three years old. So I recognize that I’m continuing a tradition that’s much greater and older than myself. I have big shoes to fill.”
And Torres hopes his story, while specific to his heritage and upbringing, finds universal appeal with voters.
“My story is the story of the Bronx. It’s a story of struggle. But it’s also a story of overcoming. And that’s the story of America.”
Brief history of RITCHE JOHN TORRES:
Ritchie John Torres, born March 12, 1988, is member of the Democratic Party, he is the New York City Councilmember for the 15th district. Elected in 2013, he is the first openly gay candidate to be elected to legislative office in the Bronx, and the youngest member of the city council.
He serves as the chair of the Committee on Public Housing, and is a deputy majority leader. As chair of the Oversight and Investigations Committee he is focusing on taxi medallion predatory loans, and the city’s Third Party Transfer Program. In 2016, Torres was a delegate for the Bernie Sanders campaign.
In July 2019, Torres announced his bid for New York’s 15th congressional district, one of the most Democratic leaning Congress districts in the United States. Torres won the nomination.
Torres is Afro-Latino; his father is from Puerto Rico and his mother is African-American. He was raised by his mother in Throggs Neck Houses, a public housing project in the Throggs Neck neighborhood of the East Bronx, where he was frequently hospitalized for asthma as a result of the mold growing in their apartment. He said, of growing up economically disadvantaged in “slum conditions”, “I was raised by a single mother who had to raise three children on minimum wage and I lived in conditions of mold and vermin, lead and leaks.” His mother raised him, his twin brother, and their sister. He was upset by the $269 million city-subsidized Trump Golf Links built “across the street” in Ferry Point Park, rather than housing for struggling New Yorkers; the course was built on a landfill, took fourteen years to be developed, and opened in 2015. He vowed then to fight for their well-being. In junior high he realized he was gay but did not come out fearing homophobic violence.
He attended Herbert H. Lehman High School, served in the inaugural class of the Coro New York Exploring Leadership Program, and later worked as an intern in the offices of the Mayor and Attorney General. He came out as a sophomore “during a schoolwide forum on marriage equality”.
Torres enrolled at New York University, but dropped out at the beginning of his sophomore year, as he was suffering from severe depression. He struggled with suicidal thoughts based on his sexuality. As he recovered, Torres resumed working for council member James Vacca, eventually becoming Vacca’s housing director. In that role, Torres conducted site inspections and documented conditions, ensuring critical housing issues were promptly and adequately addressed.