Two young, upstart New York politicians are on the cusp of making Congressional history after emerging in the lead in Tuesday’s Democratic primary elections: Bronx-based New York City councilmember Ritchie Torres, 32, and lawyer Mondaire Jones, 33, of suburban Westchester County, are on track to become the first openly gay Black congressmen. If elected, Torres would also become the first openly gay Afro-Latinx member of Congress.
“It would be the honor of my life to represent this borough,” the Bronx-born and -bred Torres said on Tuesday night, tearing up on local TV channel NY1. “It’s my home.”
Due to the influx of mail-in ballots amid the COVID-19 pandemic, final votes in New York are expected to be counted by June 30. But with 30% of the vote so far, Torres is ahead by 10 percentage points. He leads Michael Blake and Rubén Díaz Sr., a Pentecostal minister who has a long history of opposing same-sex marriage and making homophobic comments (including complaining the city council was “controlled by the homosexual community”). As Torres put it on Twitter earlier this month: “The triumph of an openly LGBTQ candidate over a pro-Trump homophobe like Ruben Diaz Sr. would be poetic justice.”
Jones, a Harvard Law graduate who worked in the Obama administration’s justice department, is all but being declared the victor in the primary race for the suburban New York congressional seat. He has what appears to be an insurmountable lead: an estimated 45% of the vote, more than double his closest opponent. “White kids used to spit on my grandfather while he walked to school in the Jim Crow South,” Jones tweeted in his candidacy announcement last year. “Now I’m running to be the first black, openly gay Congressmember in America.”
At a time of intense racial protest and Trump administration assaults on LGBTQ+ rights in the middle of Pride month, Torres and Jones are faces of the Democratic party’s progressive new guard. Both are running to replace long-serving, retiring incumbents (Representative José Serrano in the Bronx and Representative Nita Lowey, a close ally of the Clintons and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in Westchester). Representing the poorest district in the country, Torres, a self-described “product of public housing” who became the youngest-ever New York city councilperson in 2013 at age 25, has been a champion of criminal-justice reform and affordable housing. As a city councilmember, he fought for an LGBTQ+ mental-health bill. Meanwhile, Jones earned key endorsements from Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez with a platform promising to support “Medicare for all,” tuition-free college, and the Green New Deal.