While the White House and Senate races remain undetermined, Democrats have retained control in the House of Representatives. Among election night's winners was New York City Councilman, Ritchie Torres, who will represent the 15th district in the South Bronx.
The victory for Torres marks a historic moment for the United States Congress as he becomes the first openly gay Black representative to serve. His win also signifies a sea change in New York after fellow Democrat José Serrano, who held the seat for 30 years, decided not to run again.
"When he entered Congress in 1990, I was only 2 years old, and so yesterday's election in 2020 represents a passing of the torch. And I'm grateful to the voters of the South Bronx for giving the high honor of representing the next generation of leadership," Torres told Cheddar.
With his election, and the reelection of 'The Squad,' the growing diversity in Congress, according to the councilman, is a microcosm of a diverse society.
"More than 60 percent of the House Democratic Conference are women, people of color, LGBTQ, so the Democratic party in Congress [is] increasingly becoming a miniaturization of America, of multi-racial, multi-ethnic democracy. And that's a beautiful thing," he noted.
Putting People First
Torres' first priority as representative is to lobby for essential workers in the South Bronx, which was once one of the epicenters of the coronavirus pandemic, he said. The neighborhood, made up mostly of Black and Latino residents, saw almost twice the amount of hospitalizations and deaths compared to a more densely populated Manhattan.
"We have to put income in the pockets of struggling families because the road to recovery for our country will run through our families. It's their spending that will have the greatest impact in reviving the economy," he explained.
While cases continue to surge nationwide, the bare minimum, Torres said, that the federal government could do to help alleviate the financial burden many are experiencing is provide funds that would expand testing, contact tracing, and a stock of critical supplies.
But for New York in particular, Torres painted a more dire situation, and emphasized the urgent need for federal assistance in the Empire State.
"Economically we need to stabilize our local and state governments. There's never been a point in the history of our country where New York State government and New York City government and the public transit system were all caught in a fiscal death spiral," he said.
For Torres, the fight for such policies remains personal, as he expressed that having a first-hand understanding of how everyday Americans live places him in a unique position to fight for real, effective change.
"The greatest asset that I bring to public life is the wisdom of lived experience. I don't come from a political family. I don't come from privilege. I don't have fancy degrees but I know what it's like to grow up in poverty," Torres said. "Those lived experiences not only inform who I am, but are going to motivate much of what I do in Washington, DC."