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Tensions Flare as Stonewall Endorses Ritchie Torres

Real estate donations to Bronx councilmember and rival Melissa Mark-Viverito dominate discussion

Out gay Councilmember Ritchie Torres of the Bronx addresses the Stonewall Democratic Club of New York City on October 23.
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Sparks flew during a Stonewall Democratic Club of New York City endorsement meeting on October 23, but the night culminated with members expectedly backing out gay City Councilmember Ritchie Torres in next year’s congressional race to replace José Serrano in the Bronx.

[Editor’s note: This article has been revised to reflect a clarification made by the campaign of former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Verito subsequent to the original posting of this story, as explained below.]

The meeting at the LGBT Community Center in Manhattan — which also featured an endorsement of Public Advocate Jumaane Williams in his re-election bid — kicked off with little fanfare when candidate and former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito laid out the progress she made on LGBTQ issues when she led the city’s lawmaking body. Torres, too, touted his record on queer rights, citing the legislation he has pushed through and the funding he has secured to bolster the lives of youth, seniors, and people of color in the LGBTQ community.

Torres also pointed to the way in which of one of his opponents in the House race, Councilmember Ruben Diaz, Sr., unsuccessfully rallied homophobes to oppose him when Torres mounted his historic first Council run in 2013. Having weathered that storm, he argued he is uniquely positioned to take on the bigots all over again.

“Despite all of those obstacles, I won my race and I became the first openly LGBT elected official from the borough of the Bronx,” said Torres, who is vying to become the first out gay black member of Congress and the first out gay Latinx member of Congress. “I know how to defeat the homophobic forces in the Bronx”

But Stonewall members would later confront Torres about his willingness to take real estate cash in a race where Mark-Viverito has made a pledge not to take money from developers. He defended his fundraising approach, saying that he wouldn’t be influenced by those donations because the City Council, not Congress, regulates land use in the city. Moments later, the gloves came off.

“As speaker, [Mark-Viverito] presided over four years worth of rezoning that arguably led to more gentrification, not less,” Torres said defiantly. “And when she was speaker, she did not take a ‘no real estate’ pledge. Corey Johnson has taken a ‘no real estate’ pledge as speaker when it has mattered the most.”

He continued hitting Mark-Viverito, saying, “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. I’m just tired of the bullshit.”

The bitter feud between the two pols continued to spill out into the open when Torres subsequently mentioned that he “rebelled against the Bronx machine” to support Mark-Viverito’s candidacy for speaker, which he said drew the ire of the Bronx Democratic party.

“She thought I was wonderful enough then to nominate her on the floor of the City Council,” he said. “And now suddenly I’m a corrupt puppet of real estate industry? Give me a break.”

The allies-turned-rivals were two of three candidates in the race to speak in front of Stonewall members in an effort to seek the club’s endorsement. Assemblymember Michael Blake, who is a vice chair of the Democratic National Committee, recalled working on former President Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign and leading a national call with clergy in an effort to rally support for marriage equality. He also framed his candidacy as one that best represents the people of the district because his current Assembly district fits entirely within the 15th Congressional District.

Another candidate, Tomas Ramos, filled out a questionnaire and sought the club’s support, but did not show up to the meeting.

Mark-Viverito and Williams came under fire during the public advocate’s race earlier this year when Gay City News reported that the two politicians had donated to anti-LGBTQ Councilmember Chaim Deutsch despite falsely telling the club that they had never “endorsed or financially supported any candidate for public office or current elected official with a track record of working against LGBTQ equality.”

This time around, Mark-Viverito owned up to having donated to those candidates in the past. In her questionnaire as submitted, she suprisingly, however, answered “yes” when asked if she would “in the future endorse or financially support any candidate for public office or elected official with a track record of working against the LGBT community.” Gay City News sought to clarify that issue but had not heard back from Mark-Viverito or her campaign by the deadline explained in the request for comment. Subsequent to the original posting of this article, her campaign clarified that the question had been inadvertently answered incorrectly and that the former speaker would not give such financial support. The campaign used the opportunity of making that clarificaiton to emphasize Mark-Viverito’s “consistent and unwavering advocate for the LGBTQ community” throughout her career.

Among other issues addressed in the questionnaire, all candidates notably vowed to stand up for the rights of sex workers in their fight to decriminalize the sex trade.

Shortly after Stonewall announced that its members voted to endorse Torres, the 31-year-old Bronx lawmaker expressed his gratitude to the club for standing with him in the race.

“Proud to receive the endorsement of @SDNYC in the #NY15 race,” he said in a tweet. “Together, we will fight for equality for the #LGBTQ community across our country. Our rights are under attack by @realDonaldTrump but I will always be a fighter for our community in Congress.”

Posted 10:35 pm, October 24, 2019
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