Young Gay Liberal Leads Homophobic Preacher In Heated New York U.S. House Race

The New York City Council, Ritchie Torres, appears to be asserting itself in the 12-member area code for the open seat in the highly democratic 15th congressional district of New York. (Photo: Brendan McDermid / Reuters)
Ritchie Torres has taken a comfortable lead in the overcrowded democratic area code to replace MP José E. Serrano, who for three decades represented a heavily Latin American, impoverished section of the South Bronx.
With over 96% of polling stations reported, Torres, the first openly gay candidate in 2013 to become the youngest member of the New York City Council to win a legislative seat in the Bronx district, made history, 30% of those polled, well ahead of his 11 rivals.
A record number of New York voters have requested postal voting due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, and these votes are unlikely to be counted until next month. But Dave Wasserman, a poll expert on the non-partisan Cook Political Report, said at 1:22 a.m .: "I've seen enough ... [Torres] won."
"I'm not ready to declare victory until every vote is counted, but even if I win the election, it depends," said 32-year-old Torres on Tuesday night, suppressing the tears in an interview on NY1. “It would be an honor for me to represent this district. It is my home "
His campaign brought in nearly $ 1.4 million, more than any other candidate in the race, the Federal Election Commission’s records show. The vast majority of the donations came from outside the district. Torres was boosted by the city's strong real estate interests, which are trying to turn one of the poorest neighborhoods in the country into a "next Williamsburg" that points to the hyper-gentrified neighborhood in northern Brooklyn.
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City councilor @RitchieTorres says it is too early to declare victory in his congressional race, but he has an early lead. He told @JuanMaBenitez that it was the honor of his life to represent the Bronx. "It is my home." # NY1Politics
05:53 - June 24, 2020
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Torres also received strong support from well-funded LGBTQ groups, who were alarmed that his most serious opponent in the race seemed to be the conservative Rev. Rubén Díaz Sr., a dynastic figure in the Bronx who fought against measures to protect civil rights Queer and transgender New Yorker for most of his three decades of political career.
The crowded field seemed to give Díaz an advantage. When Serrano, a democrat who was first elected in 1990, announced his resignation in March 2019, he launched a rush to replace him and attracted political heavyweights like Melissa Mark-Viverito, the former council spokeswoman. MP Michael Blake; and Ydanis Rodríguez, a city councilor almost twice the age of Torres.
Though Torres had significant progressive support, including from Congress's Progressive Caucus, he did not gain the support of New York City's increasingly influential socialist left. His support from real estate and financial tycoons and his decision to water down a hotly debated police reform law in 2017 have been disqualified in the eyes of many potential allies on the left.
He openly scorned some of the groups, including America's Democratic Socialists, who helped advance the surprise of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in the neighboring congressional district in 2018. These forces eventually gathered behind Samelys López, a 40-year-old housing association whose story of child poverty and homelessness reinforced their steadfast socialist political platform.
López won recommendations from Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), But did not receive more than 2% support in a survey conducted in May by left-wing think tank Data for Progress. (She is currently in fourth place with just over 13% of personal votes.)
City council member Rubén Díaz Sr., a conservative who is against homosexuals and abortion, was preferred to win the democratic elementary school, also because of its widespread popularity. (Photo: Andrew Lichtenstein via Getty Images)
Blake has been supported by high-profile supporters of black leaders such as Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) And Rev. Jesse Jackson and has so far held a firm second place with just over 19% of personal ballots. Throughout the campaign, Díaz - currently just under a third with almost 15% of the vote - became Torres' main rival. The 77-year-old Pentecostal preacher, who opposed abortion and had to resign from the city council last year because of homophobic statements, was preferred to win in a district where he had deep roots.
While Torres and López attracted national attention, Díaz worked in a familiar ecclesiastical circle and distributed turkeys and toys to the voters. The preacher, who was born in Puerto Rico, was often the subject of media gazing at his preference for wearing cowboy hats and bolo ties, and built up a huge patronage network in the northernmost district of New York. In the early 1990s, he used his influence in the churches to become the city's Civilian Complaint Review Board, where he began his crusade to block LGBTQ protections.
In 2001 he won a seat on the city council. After two decades as a senator in Albany, he returned to the city's legislature in 2018. His son Rubén Díaz Jr. is the popular Bronx district president who was considered a top contender in next year's mayoral elections before saying goodbye in January wishing to leave public life. The older Díaz, widely regarded as an angler to benefit from his son's popularity, has deleted the suffix of his name on this year's ballot.
The prospect of one of the country's most democratic districts sending an anti-gay person like Díaz Sr. to Congress prompted an increase in independent spending by democratic groups like the Voter Protection Project to stop him.
The Data for Progress survey showing that Torres is the best alternative to Díaz also helped.
"It wasn't my original option, but after looking at the numbers ... I ended up prioritizing Rubén Díaz Sr.," said Marcel Bravo, a retail worker at M.S. 301 Paul L. Dunbar in the South Bronx.
George Leal, a hospital worker who voted in the same place, was impressed by Torres after speaking to him. "He looks like a very sincere person," said Leal. "He's very kind, unlike some other people I don't know what it's about."
Torres, the son of a Puerto Rican father and a black mother, grew up on a housing project in the Throggs Neck neighborhood in the East Bronx. He enrolled at New York University, but dropped out in the second year because he struggled with his sexuality and suffered from severe depression. He later started taking antidepressants and became involved in the legal profession in the housing sector. At 25, he ran for the city council and won.
In a 2016 profile in The New Yorker, Torres praised the bigotry in what he described as the “New York City Bible Belt”. While on the phone for his campaign, he said his mother was told, "Your son is going to hell!" However, the district's Data for Progress poll found that the vast majority of voters in demography - 71% of Latinos, 75% of blacks, and 73% of registered Democrats overall - viewed "gay-lesbian relationships" as "morally acceptable." .
However, the poll found that Díaz was 2% ahead of Torres among Democrats, 1% ahead of black voters, and 4% ahead of Latin American voters. Around 30% of voters in each category were undecided at this point.
Unless thousands of postal ballot papers get one of the outsiders at the last minute going, these voters seem to have chosen Torres.
Torres and his New York compatriot Mondaire Jones, who is expected to win the Democratic Elementary School in the state's 17th district in the suburbs north of the Bronx, would be the first openly gay black men in Congress.
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This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.

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