On a recent afternoon inside a tiny Italian restaurant, nobody notices the slight young man perched on a stool in the corner eating an eggplant-Parm sandwich. His name is Ritchie Torres—his mom named him for Ritchie Valens after watching La Bamba—but come January, the 25-year-old will be known as Councilman Torres.
Raised in the Throggs Neck Houses, he is a Lehman High School grad who went on to NYU. After working as an intern for Bronx council member Jimmy Vacca, he got a job with him, took a leave of absence from college, and hasn’t been back. He eventually became Vacca’s housing director. Torres would visit constituents’ crumbling apartments with mold-covered walls, take pictures, then send those photos to the property manager: “ ‘Fix this, or I’m e-mailing this picture to the Daily News.’ ” “It was coercive,” he says, “but it worked.”
This past January, Torres decided to enter a crowded Democratic-primary race in the central Bronx. His opponents included two attorneys, a pastor, and the chief of staff for the outgoing councilman. Torres won, becoming not only the youngest incoming member but also the first openly gay person ever elected to major public office in the Bronx.
Among friends, his election to the City Council led to jokes like “Why are you slacking off? Why aren’t you borough president yet?”