Out gay Bronx Councilmember Ritchie Torres is taking fresh shots at his homophobic opponent and City Council colleague Ruben Diaz, Sr., with just weeks to go until the wide open Democratic primary election in the 15th Congressional District.
During a May 12 discussion about the campaign with the LGBTQ Victory Fund, which works to elect queer candidates across the country, Torres warned that Diaz is “arguably” the “frontrunner” in the race and, if elected, would ride the coattails of a Trumpian right-wing agenda all the way to Capitol Hill.
Gay lawmaker sounds alarm about anti-LGBTQ opponent in NY-15 congressional race
Torres described the 77-year-old Diaz as “the leading homophobe in elected office in New York State” and pointed to his history of anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and actions such as his fierce opposition to same-sex marriage during his time in the State Senate and comments in 1994 that the Gay Games in New York would lead to “an increase in AIDS cases and to wider acceptance of homosexuality by young people.” Torres also cited Diaz’s comments last year when he said the City Council was “controlled by the homosexual community.”
“About a year ago he said the City Council is controlled by the gay mafia,” Torres said before injecting some humor into the conversation with Victory Fund political director Sean Meloy. “As a card-carrying member of the gay mafia, I think that’s the most accurate thing he has ever said.”
Days after Diaz spewed homophobia about the City Council, he defiantly voiced more cringeworthy comments about LGBTQ people in a lengthy interview with Gay City News at his district office, telling this reporter, “What is wrong with what I said? That the gay community has power and control? Yes, they do!”
When asked during that interview which LGBTQ rights initiatives he would support as a councilmember, Diaz threw his hands in the air and asked, “Why do I have to? Why? I mean, that is the problem.”
He added, “I don’t believe in gay marriage, I don’t believe in abortion, I don’t believe in drinking, I don’t believe in smoking, and I don’t believe in dancing.”
Now, with time ticking in a race where the homophobe holds the advantage of being an entrenched political figure for decades, Torres is raising a sense of urgency about his opponent. Among other concerns, he noted that Diaz has the same name as his well-known son, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr.
“[Diaz, Sr.] could conceivably win on the strength of name recognition or name confusion,” Torres said. “So we have to educate voters about who he is and we have to tell voters he is a Trump Republican and we cannot afford to have a Trump Republican masquerading as a Democrat represent the most Democratic district in America — especially not in the midst of COVID-19.”
Torres, 32, continued tearing into Diaz, reminding folks that the cowboy hat-wearing bigot endorsed Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino when Governor Andrew Cuomo ran for re-election in 2014 and welcomed Texas Senator Ted Cruz to the Bronx instead of endorsing Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in 2016.
“When I think of Ruben Diaz, Sr., I think of him as the Donald Trump of New York City politics. He is every bit as bombastic and buffoonish,” Torres said. “Even though he calls himself a Democrat, he has a long history of aiding and abetting the Republican Party.”
Torres, whose historic campaign could propel him to become the first out gay congressmember in New York City history and the first gay Afro-Latinx member of Congress, is also facing numerous other opponents beyond his homophobic City Council colleague. Other candidates include former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Bronx State Assemblymember Michael Blake, who is also a vice chair of the Democratic National Committee, and Manhattan Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez. Samelys López, who has the support of Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of the Bronx and Queens, is also in the mix, along with a handful of other contenders.
Torres has amassed a significant fundraising advantage over his competition, raking in more than $1 million, but he admits his plans were thwarted by the devastating impact of the coronavirus pandemic. He has had to ditch his field operation and is focusing on television advertisements, traditional mail, and digital outreach.
“We were planning for a traditional campaign,” Torres said. “We were going to invest heavily in the field operation and knock on 100,000 doors, and then we saw the outbreak of the coronavirus.”
Torres continued, “We’re entering a vote-by-mail election. Even though the primary is on the 23rd, most of the electorate could conceivably vote well before then absentee.”
Representative José Serrano, the outgoing congressmember who currently occupies the seat in the 15th district, is retiring at the end of his term.
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