Out gay Councilmember Ritchie Torres of the Bronx made it clear from the beginning of his congressional campaign that he would not join the growing herd of Democratic candidates who have disavowed campaign donations from real estate developers or other big-money corporate interests.
That decision has morphed into a recurring theme in his campaign and the most recent chapter of that book comes with an entirely new twist.
The Daily News reported on November 10 that Torres accepted $11,200 in donations from billionaire Daniel Loeb and his wife, Margaret, two years after Loeb said State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins’ support of public school teachers unions instead of charter schools did “more damage to people of color than anyone who has ever donned a hood” — a remarkably inflammatory charge to level against the African-American Westchester County Democrat.
The donations to Torres’ campaign followed a 2017 City Council speaker race during which Torres responded to those comments by making a pledge not to take Loeb’s money, saying, “Money in politics should reflect the people we represent, and our values as public servants.”
That was not the only time Loeb made cringe-worthy statements. In 2016, Dealbreaker.com posted screenshots of Loeb’s social media post attacking teachers unions as “the biggest single force standing in the way of quality education and an organization that has done more to perpetuate poverty and discrimination against people of color than the KKK.”
In addition to the $11,200 from Loeb and his wife, the hedge fund manager was also the only donor to the Quality Public Schools Political Action Committee — which has steered $5,600 into Torres’ campaign.
Torres defended Loeb’s donations to his campaign when responding to the Daily News’ reporting, accusing opposition researchers of being “behind this story” and stating that nobody should be “defined by one comment we made in our lives.” He also painted Loeb as a “prolific donor to the Democratic Party and to progressive causes like Raise the Age. There’s nothing unusual about seeking support from supporters of Democratic candidates and Democratic causes.”
Loeb, however, has been steering much of his political contributions into the war chests of Republicans and conservatives, including a $128,800 boost to the National Republican Congressional Committee earlier this year.
The latest news drew criticism from out lesbian former gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon, who said in a tweet, “Outrageous. Bronx Congressional candidate Ritchie Torres is taking $$ from a (largely Republican) hedge fund donor he once rightfully condemned for repeated racist remarks. Give the money back Ritchie!!!”
Torres, who has easily outraised his opponents thus far in the crowded race to replace José Serrano, was most recently forced to address concerns about his donations when voters confronted him at a Stonewall Democratic Club endorsement meeting on October 23. He was twice asked about taking money from real estate developers, and he defended himself by arguing that such donations would not interfere with his donations because members of Congress do not control land use in the city.
During that same meeting, Torres ripped one of his opponents in the race, former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, for presiding “over four years worth of rezoning that arguably led to more gentrification, not less.” He further brushed off Mark-Viverito’s pledge to avoid taking money from developers by pointing out that she did not take a “no real estate” pledge while she was speaker.
““But if you were speaker for four years and you approved four years of rezoning that ultimately led to more gentrification, it is disingenuous to suddenly claim you’re a democratic socialist,” he said at the time. “I’m just tired of the bullshit.”
Torres raised $335,089 in the most recent filing period between July 1 and September 30 after hauling in $522,000 in his first filing. Assemblymember Michael Blake raised $239,260 in the second quarter, while Mark-Viverito pulled in $151,613 and Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez reported a $53,160 haul.
[Editor’s note: Subsequent to the original posting of this article, Torres responded to Gay City News’ request for comment, writing, “These are politically motivated attacks from a failed public advocate candidate, Melissa Mark-Viverito, who, in the CD 15 race, is the only candidate being presently sued for discriminating against African Americans [as reported in The City]. These attacks are driven by nothing more than politics and money.” ]