Ritchie Torres (photo: William Alatriste/City Council)
As this month’s primary election results seem to be proving, the winds of change are blowing and are shifting the direction of Latino politics in New York City. Has a new era of leadership in Latino political representation arrived?
In the Bronx, Ritchie Torres seems to be ahead with a comfortable margin, defeating Michael Blake, long-time politico Ruben Diaz, Sr., and many others in the 15th Congressional District. In these pages I predicted that Torres was one to take very seriously. The future has arrived. When all ballots are counted, I expect Torres to pull off the victory.
Torres now joins Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC), Nydia Velazquez, and Adriano Espaillat as the Latino congressional representatives in New York City. Torres and AOC, though, represent a new and perhaps more progressive voice, one that is representative of the younger Latino generation. Surveys indicate that members of this younger generation tend to be more progressive than their parents and grandparents. Three years ago (when AOC was still bartending) I wrote: “Torres is charismatic, well-liked by his peers, and whip-smart. He has the uncanny ability to probe and articulate complex policy matters. At 29 years of age, Torres will surely be one to watch for years to come.”
Now with a bigger platform, I anticipate that Torres will be a formidable force on behalf of the Latino community for years to come.
Perhaps the strongest wind of change in Latino politics is blowing from Queens. Jessica González-Rojas appears to be defeating incumbent Assemblymember Michael DenDekker. González-Rojas, who was endorsed by Tiffany Cabán but interestingly enough not AOC, is now the fourth Latina to be elected in Queens, following the elections of AOC, Jessica Ramos, and Catalina Cruz two years ago.
Two things are important about these successes: First, that we are seeing the rise of female representation among Latino political representatives. Latinas have rightly felt emboldened by the lack of progress that was evident in our communities and have responded by elbowing their way to the table, knowing that they have something to offer and contribute to Latino communities. And the communities are responding by electing them.
Currently, there are 31 Latino elected officials in the city, including the addition of González-Rojas. Women now represent 42% of all Latino elected officials in the city—from Congress to the City Council. (Here, I am not including the numerous women that hold party positions.) While there is much more to do to make that figure more representative of the Latina presence within the electorate and society at large, the trend is encouraging.
With the re-election of the women mentioned above, and the election of González-Rojas, the 2020 primary election cycle may come to be known as the year of the Latina. It’s about time! I am certain that the late Olga Mendez, the first Latina in the country to be elected to the state Legislature (representing East Harlem for many years) is smiling from above.
Additionally, the addition of González-Rojas to Queens’ representation also marks a shift in the center of Latino voter participation and presence. Whereas formerly the Bronx was almost exclusively where Latino elected officials resided, we are now seeing the results of what has been a steady increase in the Latino population in Queens. As we’ve seen with AOC, Ramos, Cruz, and now González-Rojas, more Latino candidates are being elected in the borough of Queens. The Archie Bunker days seem to be over. A new era is being ushered in.
In the future, I will take a deeper dive into the significance of the Latino vote in this primary cycle. For now, as results continue to trickle in and as we await the Board of Elections’ counting of absentee ballots and certification of outcomes, the Latino community should be proud of its seeming awakening.
Eli Valentin is a political analyst and author of the forthcoming book, Reinhold Niebuhr: A Political Life. On Twitter @EliValentinNY.