Ritchie Torres may have been the youngest Council member (26) when he officially took office on Jan. 1. But he was even younger after winning the competitive September primary . That’s the day he considered the beginning of his term. Though he obviously didn’t have any Council staffers, he sent volunteers to community meetings of all kinds in District 15 (Belmont; east and west Tremont; Fordham north and south; west Tremont, Pelham Parkway North and Van Nest).
And that’s still a top focus. He learned it from his former boss, Council Member ” target=”_blank”> Torres assigns himself to meeting with leaders of groups, “all big and small,” he says. “You want to partner with these organizations that increase the quality of life in the community,” Torres says. “I’m only as strong, and as good, as the partnerships that I build and I see all these leaders as partners in public service.”
And now, Torres has been given a key role to focus on policy priorities that a 26-year-old Council newbie could never have imagined. He was the only Bronx council member-elect who strongly supported Melissa Mark-Viverito for speaker from the beginning.
“The Bronx has a tradition of allegiance to the County organization, so for a new member like me to assert his independence and side with the progressive caucus did cause some resentment,” Torres said.
It was a highly successful tradeoff. The speaker appointed Torres to chair the Committee on Public Housing (he grew up as a NYCHA tenant) and to the Council leadership team.
Since the city “doesn’t invest as much in housing organizing as it once did,” Torres wants the Big Apple to get back to “engag[ing] tenant leaders in the process of enforcing the housing code,” and to push for an “increase in civil penalties for code violations and an increase in the interest rate on emergency repairs.” And because there’s a sunset in a law addressing liens, he said, “we should ensure that HPD continues to have the ability to impose a lien to landlords that fail to make payments.” When landlords don’t pay the city what they owe it for, say, water bills or property taxes, those charges can be sold to private entities that vigorously go after the dough. Most landlords would never want to face that.
Like de Blasio and Mark-Viverito, Torres sees expanding paid sick leave as an “immediate priority.”
“I’m hopeful that we’re going to have an opportunity to focus on expanding living wage and to create more affordable housing through mandatory inclusionary zoning,” he said.