Openly Gay, Black and 'pro-Israel Progressive' Ritchie Torres Set to Win Seat in Congress

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Bronx City Councilman Ritchie Torres speaks during a news conference, outside 666 5th Avenue regarding the Kushner Companies allegedly falsifying work permits with the City's Department of Buildings, in New York, U.S., March 19, 2018
Bronx City Councilman Ritchie Torres speaks during a news conference, outside 666 5th Avenue regarding the Kushner Companies, in New York, U.S., March 19, 2018Credit: REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Emerging as one of the projected winners of New York’s Democratic primary, New York City councilman Richie Torres, who has described himself as “the embodiment of a pro-Israel progressive,” could soon make history in Congress.

The 30-year-old is one of two openly gay black candidates – along with lawyer Mondaire Jones, who is set to win the primary for New York’s 17th congressional district – on track to win seats in the U.S. Congress.

If elected in November, they would be the first openly gay Black men in Congress.

Torres was well ahead of rivals in the race for New York’s 15th Congressional District seat representing the South Bronx as of late Wednesday. Final results however may come only in July, as absentee ballots have not yet been counted and according to the State’s Board of Elections, New York voters have requested such ballots in record numbers over the past weeks, amidst the coronavirus pandemic.

Torres is expected to join Israel's Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer on Thursday in a virtual event in honor of LGBTQ Pride Month.

Although he is a young progressive candidate, Torres told Jewish Insider in December that he doesn’t see himself as part of the Democratic socialist camp which includes figures such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, or Jamaal Bowman, who is set to win against incumbent Eliot Engel in New York’s 16th district.

U.S. Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) votes at a school near his home in the Riverdale neighborhood of the Bronx borough of New York City, on June 23, 2020.Credit: AFP

“I am from the Bronx, I’m Afro-Latino, I’m Puerto Rican, I’m a millennial — but I’m also pro-Israel,” he said in the Jewish Insider interview

Torres added that he opposes the Boycott Divest and Sanctions movement against Israel saying it “poisons whatever it touches” and is “an insidious form of antisemitism."

According to the article, Torres said that he is “both progressive and pro-Israel".

“The notion that you cannot be both progressive and pro-Israel is a vicious lie, because I am the embodiment of a pro-Israel progressive,” he added.

Israel was also a point of concern in another Democratic primary race in the Bronx this week as Long-time Pro-Israel Congressman Eliot Engel is likely to lose the seat for New York’s 16th Congressional District to his progressive challenger Jamaal Bowman.

A moderate Democrat, Engel serves as chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and is a leading pro-Israel voice in Congress, voting against the Iran nuclear deal in 2015.

While Israel policy does not feature in the primary, many pro-Israel voters worry that his ouster would be a triumph for progressives who want the party to adopt a more critical position on Israel.

Bowman – who has been continuously compared to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez over the past weeks – had gained the endorsements of prominent democratic socialists like former presidential candidates Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, as well as Rep. Ocasio-Cortez herself.

In an op-ed to the Riverdale Press this week Bowman clarified his position on Israel and said that like Torres, he personally opposes the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, but added he “can connect to what it feels like for Palestinians to feel the presence of the military in their daily lives in the West Bank.”

“I believe firmly in the right of Israelis to live in safety and peace, free from the fear of violence and terrorism from Hamas and other extremists, and support continued U.S. aid to help Israel confront these security challenges,” Bowman wrote. “I also believe that Palestinians are entitled to the same human rights, safety from violence and self-determination in a state of their own.”

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