Metro Weekly

LGBTQ groups urge progressives to drop out of N.Y. congressional race and support Ritchie Torres

Fears abound that a split among progressives could enable anti-LGBTQ Councilman Ruben Diaz, Sr. to win

ritchie torres, democrat, new york, election, primary

Ritchie Torres – Photo: Facebook

A coalition of LGBTQ groups is urging progressive candidates in a New York congressional race to drop out and rally behind openly gay New York City Councilman Ritchie Torres.

The groups worry that liberal and progressive-leaning voters will split their support and end up enabling Councilman Ruben Diaz, Sr., a Democrat who has become infamous for his anti-LGBTQ views and rhetoric, to win the June 23 primary — which is tantamount to winning the general election in the heavily Democratic district — with a plurality of votes.

Diaz, Torres, and several other candidates are seeking the seat for New York’s 15th Congressional District, located in the Bronx, which is currently held by the retiring U.S. Rep. José Serrano.

Among the other candidates in the race are former NYC Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito,  Assemblyman Michael Blake, and Samelys Lopez, a Democratic socialist who has the backing of U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Unfortunately for Torres, who is a self-described “progressive,” several other candidates are also trying to claim that mantle — specifically Lopez, who supports Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, and several planks once popularized by former presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

Left-leaning activists, especially those who identify as Democratic socialists, argue that Lopez is the only true progressive in the race, pointing to her rejection of corporate PAC money and donations from real estate developers. (Many critics of the current campaign finance system say that candidates who accept corporate PAC money are “corrupt” and are demonstrating fealty to monied interests that lobby Congress in an effort to influence legislation — thus making them untrustworthy when it comes to fighting for regular working people.)

Related: Openly gay Bronx Councilman Ritchie Torres to run for Congress

The problem, though, is that while Lopez, Torres, and the others compete for the same pool of voters, they risk fracturing the field and allowing the anti-LGBTQ Diaz — a longtime politico who not only benefits from name recognition in his own right, but his son’s status as Bronx Borough president (and the party apparatus behind him) — to romp to victory by consolidating more socially conservative Democratic voters.

Diaz — who, notably, says he hasn’t decided between voting for Joe Biden or Donald Trump in November — opposes the Equality Act and has been involved in efforts to block marriage equality or LGBTQ nondiscrimination laws, both in the State Senate and as a New York City Councilman. He was also recently endorsed by the New York City Police Benevolent Association, which has historically been defensive about concerns raised over the use of force by NYPD officers, a potential detriment, given the spate of protests over police brutality and systemic racism currently being held throughout the United States.

In response, the LGBTQ Victory Fund, which advocates for more LGBTQ representation in elective office, Equality PAC, a political action committee of the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus seeking to support candidates with pro-LGBTQ stances to Congress, and the Stonewall Democratic Club of NYC, New York City’s top LGBTQ political organization, have rallied around Torres, whom they previously endorsed.

The groups point to a recent poll showing Torres currently trailing Diaz by only two percentage points. According to that poll, Diaz receives 22% of the vote in a fractured field, compared to Torres’ 20%, with three other “progressives” receiving 6% each and four additional progressives receiving 2% or less of the vote, with 34% of voters undecided.

However, the poll notes that a plurality of those undecideds break for Diaz due to his family’s strong name recognition. And yet, even though Diaz is the favorite to win, 73% of voters hold a view contrary to his own: that same-sex relationships are “morally acceptable.”

Ruben Diaz, Sr. – Photo: Facebook.

“With less than two weeks to Election Day, the most Democratic Congressional seat in America is at risk of being won by a homophobic, transphobic, anti-choice politician and it is because candidates are choosing ego over constituents,” Annise Parker, the president and CEO of the LGBTQ Victory Fund, said in a statement. “This is a two-way race. The member of Congress from NY-15 will either be a Trump-loving bigot or an LGBTQ progressive, and the progressive candidates in this race play a huge role in determining that outcome. It is time to unite in defeating Rubén Díaz Sr. — next week may be too late.”

U.S. Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), the co-chair of Equality PAC, noted that Torres would make history as the first Afro-Latino member of Congress, and that a victory by Diaz would be trumpeted by President Trump as a victory for him and a defeat for the Left.

“Rubén Díaz Sr. is entirely out-of-step with the majority of his would-be constituents and with the entire Democratic House Caucus,” U.S. Rep. Mark Takano, co-chair of Equality PAC, said in a statement. “If he wins this race, he would be the only Democrat to oppose the Equality Act in the next session. Diaz Sr. is a disgrace to the principles of equality and social justice that both our party and the constituents of NY-15 hold, and we cannot allow him to receive the Democratic nomination by default.”

“The residents of New York’s 15th Congressional District are hurting — from the systemic racism they have faced for generations to the violent policing we see on the news every night and the COVID-19 pandemic,” Brian Romero, the president of the Stonewall Democratic Club of NYC, added. “The pain is made worse when we elect leaders who are bigoted and divisive. We cannot lose this race, and it is time for progressives to unite behind Ritchie Torres to defeat hate.”

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John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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