Ritchie John Torres was born on March 12, 1988 in the Bronx, New York. Raised by a single mother working minimum-wage jobs, he grew up in public housing projects in the Throggs Neck section of the East Bronx. Torres struggled with severe depression from a young age and would drop out of New York University as a sophomore, due to suicidal thoughts.
While learning to cope with mental illness, Torres worked for Democratic councilman James “Jimmy” Vacca of New York’s 13th City Council District. Introduced to Vacca as a high-school student, Torres rose from the position of campaign volunteer, to intern, and eventually to Vacca’s housing director from 2006 to 2013. With the support of Vacca and a real estate industry-led PAC that donated $267,000 to his campaign, Torres himself became a City Council member at the age of 25 in 2013, making him the youngest elected city official in New York. For the next seven years, he represented the New York City Council’s 15th District, which encompassed several neighborhoods in the Bronx.
As a Democratic member of the City Council, Torres was intent on addressing what he called the “humanitarian crisis” that hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers faced as a result of substandard public housing. In his role as chair of the Committee on Public Housing, he aggressively sought to investigate, expose, and address – by means of taxpayer funds — the widespread incidence of broken boilers, leaky roofs, and many other structural deficiencies in the city’s public housing projects.
Torres also helped lead a City Council resolution to allocate $36.2 million for a gun-violence-prevention program designed to result in “fewer guns and fewer gangs.” Moreover, as a gay man himself, Torres was a vocal promoter of LGBT causes. His efforts helped lead to the creation of a homeless shelter for LGBT youth in the Bronx, as well as funding for LGBT senior centers in each of the city’s five boroughs.
In 2020, Torres ran for New York’s 15th Congressional District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, one of the poorest and most heavily Democratic districts in the country. Over the course of his campaign, he made no secret of his intent to pursue all manner of big-government policies. Following is an overview of Torres’ positions vis-à-vis five issues of import, as articulated on his 2020 campaign website:
“The Green New Deal is not only an agenda for environmental justice, but it is also one for economic justice and racial justice. Severe pollution is lethal in communities like the Bronx…. We have to radically restructure the American economy and society around renewable energy. Black and Brown communities are on the frontlines of the environmental crisis, and they must be prioritized in our agenda to fight climate change.”
“[I]t is vital that we reimagine our criminal justice system, and he has consistently advocated for greater oversight mechanisms of law enforcement because the NYPD [New York Police Department] cannot be trusted to police itself. In Congress, [Torres] will fight for community-based alternatives to policing…. He also believes that the answer to our gun violence epidemic is to reduce the number of guns and to reduce access to the guns available.”
“Access to a safe and legal abortion is vital health care, and [Torres] remains committed to fighting for reproductive justice and the right to choose as essential elements of gender equality…. [W]e must repeal the Hyde Amendment, which disproportionately harms Black and Brown women and transgender and non-binary individuals.”
“Not only do we need a pathway to citizenship for the millions of undocumented individuals, but … we must make our health care, educational, and vocational programs more inclusive because too often these programs discriminate based on immigration status.”
“[Torres] supports Medicare for All and … is committed to increased funding for our safety-net hospitals and facilities … which serve Medicaid beneficiaries, undocumented individuals, and the uninsured.”
In a September 2020 interview, candidate Torres denounced Democratic critics who accused him of being insufficiently “progressive.” Proudly identifying himself as a “progressive Democrat,” he declared: “I refuse to be lectured by white gentrifiers on what it means to be progressive…. Screw them.” Progressivism, Torres claimed, is “a belief that the government can and should play a role in improving people’s lives.”
Torres described the deadly COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 “not only as a challenge, but as … a once in a century opportunity to fundamentally reinvest in America on the scale of the 21st Century New Deal” – i.e., “we will have the makings of an FDR moment.” Toward that end, he called on Democrats in the federal government to dedicate themselves to massive undertakings such as “fight[ing] catastrophic climate change, creat[ing] the next generation of green jobs, [and] creat[ing] a comprehensive social safety net that establishes both health and housing as human rights.” “Democrats recognize that there are some public goods that are so essential that the government is obligated to guarantee it,” Torres said on another occasion. “We [Democrats] all can guarantee universal health care, affordable housing, [and] access to a quality education.”
In addition, Torres voiced his intent to “address the root causes of systemic racism which was powerfully laid bare by the 1619 Project.” Charging that the NYPD had developed “a culture of impunity, a blue wall of silence, that enables police misconduct,” he stated that the “doctrine of qualified immunity” – which grants government officials (including police officers) wide-ranging protection from lawsuits in most cases — “is essentially a license to brutalize black and brown lives.”
Emphasizing the need to “limit the number of guns on our streets and limit access to those guns,” Torres remarked that the “worst form of American exceptionalism is with the epidemic of gun violence … and we have more gun violence simply because we have more guns.”
On December 7, 2020, Torres accompanied fellow Democratic congressmen Mondaire Jones and Jamaal Bowman as well as Senator Charles Schumer in a press conference during which the group announced that they had “come to the conclusion” that President-elect Joe Biden should “forgive $50,000” of federal student loan debt for low-income and middle-class students on “the first day he becomes president.”
In a race that was essentially uncontested because of the overwhelmingly Democratic makeup of New York’s 15th Congressional District, Torres easily won the general election with nearly 88% of the vote on November 3, 2020.
After he was sworn in as a congressman on January 3, 2021, Torres became a member of the Congressional Progressive, Black, and Hispanic Caucuses, in addition to being named a co-chair of the Congressional LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus.
Torres made it clear that he was firmly opposed to security measures like the one that his congressional campaign described as a “ridiculous wall on our southern border … that nobody wants,” and as “a vanity project that only serves to appease the xenophobic faction of [President Trump’s] base.” By contrast, in the aftermath of the January 6, 2021 temporary occupation of the U.S. Capitol building by several hundred Trump supporters in Washington, Torres called for the construction of a “permanent barrier” to protect the Capitol from being used, in the future, “as an open campus [and] an open invitation to mob violence.” Anticipating the potential threat that “violent white supremacy” and the “crisis of violent white nationalism” might pose in the months and years to come, Torres said that “what’s required is a security fence that prevents an invasion.”
In January 2021 as well, Torres issued a statement asserting that the imminent deportation of a Bronx-based beneficiary of DACA (Deferred Action of Childhood Arrivals) was proof that the “vile anti-immigrant ideology of Donald Trump remains dominant at ICE [Immigration & Customs Enforcement], which is a soulless deportation machine that separates families and savages communities without regard for the human cost.”
In March 2021, Torres voted in favor of both the American Dream and Promise Act and the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, legislative initiatives that were, by Torres’ telling, designed “to modernize and reform our immigration system and secure permanent protections and a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.” Noting that such legislation would offer the beneficiaries of DACA and other programs for illegal aliens “permanent legal status so that they can continue to contribute to the country they call home,” the congressman affirmed his commitment “to reimagine our entire immigration system so that it is rooted in humanity and acceptance rather than dehumanization and exclusion.”
In April 2021, Torres voted to pass H.R. 1333, the NO BAN Act, which was intended to outlaw “future presidents from issuing travel bans that discriminate based on religion” – a thinly veiled reference to what the congressman characterized as former President Trump’s “Muslim Ban.” Stating that H.R. 1333 would help to “restore the separation of powers” and “prevent future executive overreach,” Torres said that “discrimination and xenophobia have no place [in] our country,” and that he was “proud to fight for immigrants, students, workers and visitors of all faiths to feel welcome in the United States.”
In a letter signed by more than two dozen House Democrats in May 2021, Torres called for the elimination of funding for ICE’s 287(g) program, which enabled the Department of Homeland Security to authorize selected state and local officers to enforce federal immigration law. Claiming that 287(g) had led to a “degradation in trust between communities of color and police,” Torres deemed it “irresponsible for the federal government to continue to [be] funding this program.”
In June 2021, Torres joined Senator Bob Menendez in promoting a bicameral resolution to recognize June as “Immigrant Heritage Month.” This resolution, said Torres, was “about honoring the traditions and cultures that make up the fabric of our … nation of immigrants.”
Similarly, Torres joined Congresswoman Yvette Clarke in introducing a resolution to designate September as “African Immigrant Heritage Month.” The objective, said Torres, was to highlight “the need to fight disparities within the greater Black population in America,” as well as “the need for more compassionate immigration policies.”
In June of 2021, Torres lamented that the longstanding tradition of the Senate filibuster – a policy requiring that three-fifths of all senators consent to ending debate on a particular bill before it can face a vote on the Senate floor — had “become a graveyard for everything good in the world” and was now the Democrat-controlled Senate’s “greatest obstacle on the path to progress.” Consequently, Torres exhorted his fellow Democrats to eliminate the filibuster and then act “boldly” — as Democrats had done during the eras of the New Deal and the Great Society — in using their razor-thin congressional majorities to pass their various agenda items.
Torres was particularly angered by fellow Democrat Senator Joe Manchin, who was one of only two Senate Democrats (along with Senator Kyrsten Sinema) who steadfastly refused to support the elimination of the filibuster rule. “Look, we no longer live in a democracy,” Torres complained. “We live under the tyranny of Joe Manchin. So, we are all at the whim of Joe Manchin.”
One of the highest-priority agenda items that Torres hoped to pass in 2021 was the Equality Act, which he dubbed “the holy grail of equality,” legislation aiming to codify sexual orientation and “gender identity” as protected characteristics akin to religion, race, and sex. Claiming that “the single most insidious threat to LGBTQ equality is the weaponization of religious liberty,” Torres condemned the “open-ended assault on the equality and humanity” of LGBT people via discrimination “under the guise of ‘religious conscience’ and ‘religious liberty.’”
In October 2021, Torres and 123 fellow House Democrats signed an open letter calling on both chambers of Congress to ensure that $330 billion worth of “investments” in affordable housing would be part of their ten-year, $3.5 trillion “Build Back Better Act.” It would be “shortsighted” for lawmakers to allow the magnitude of that “price tag” to dissuade them from supporting Build Back Better, said Torres, calling the proposal a “modest investment” in policies that would not only help the U.S. “recover from the ravages of COVID,” but would also address “homelessness and widespread poverty [and] the impacts of systemic racism.”
In November 2021, Torres and U.S. Senator Charles Schumer voiced their shared concern regarding Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg’s recent assertion that racism had been “built into” many American highways. By Buttigieg’s telling, there were a host of instances where “a highway was built for the purpose of dividing a white and a black neighborhood,” or “an underpass was constructed such that a bus carrying mostly black and Puerto Rican kids to a beach … was designed too low for [the bus] to pass by” – thereby “obviously reflect[ing] racism that went into those design choices.” Torres, for his part, cited New York’s Cross Bronx Expressway as an example of a road that was “both literally and metaphorically a structure of racism.”
Torres has allowed the Urban Justice Center – which seeks to “promot[e] social justice” by providing “direct legal assistance to vulnerable people and communities” — to use his office as a venue for one of its family law clinics.