From City Council To Congress?


>>>CONGRESSMAN WHO HAS REPRESENTED 15 CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT IN THE BRONX SINCE 1990 ANNOUNCED LAST SPRING HE WOULD NOT BE SEEKING RE-ELECTION IN 2020 AS A RESULT OF BEING DIAGNOSED WITH PARKINSON’S DISEASE. RITCHIE TORRES, THE CHAIR OF THE COUNCIL’S POWERFUL COMMITTEE ANNOUNCED HE WOULD BE SEEKING THAT OPEN SEAT. WHY IS HE RUNNING? WHAT ARE HIS ISSUES? AND WHO DOES HE CONSIDER HIS PRIMARY CHALLENGER. JOINING US NOW IS COUNCIL MEMBER R RITCHIE TORRES. THANK YOU FOR BEING HERE.>>CITY COUNCIL VETERAN MAKES ME SOUND OLD.>>YOU ARE STILL THE YOUNGEST GUY, BUT A VETERAN NONETHELESS. WHY ARE YOU RUNNING? IS IT SIMPLY BECAUSE THE SEAT IS NOW OPEN AND YOU’RE BEING TERM LIMITED OUT OF YOUR CITY COUNCIL SEAT?>>I THINK IT’S A TIME FOR NEW GENERATIONAL LEADERSHIP IN THE SOUTH BRONX. FOR DECADES IT’S BEEN SAID THAT THE SOUTH BRONX IS THE POOREST CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT IN AMERICA. ALBERT EINSTEIN SAID DOING THE SAME THING OVER AND OVER AGAIN AND EXPECTING A DIFFERENT RESULT IS THE DEFINITION OF INSANITY. THE CENTRAL MISSION OF MY LIFE HAS BEEN TO BREAK THE CYCLE OF POVERTY ESPECIALLY IN THE SOUTH BRONX. BUT THE RULES ARE SET IN WASHINGTON, D.C. THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT HAS THE GREATEST IMPACT ON HEALTH AND HOUSING, THE ECONOMY, AND JOBS. IF YOU WANT TO HAVE A REAL IMPACT IN BREAKING THE CYCLE OF POVERTY, IN LIFTING THE LIVES OF WORKING PEOPLE, YOU HAVE TO BE A POLICY MAKER ON A NATIONAL STAGE. YOU HAVE TO BE IN WASHINGTON, D.C. WHERE THE RULES ARE SET, AND THAT’S WHY I’M RUNNING FOR CONGRESS.>>YOU RAN FOR THE CITY COUNCIL TO SPEAKERSHIP TWO YEARS AGO. DID YOU NOT BELIEVE THAT THE REAL POWER WAS IN WASHINGTON AT THAT TIME, THE REAL POWER TO HELP?>>YOU CAN HAVE A REAL IMPACT AT THE CITY COUNCIL LEVEL, AND I’VE BEEN THE LEADING CHAMPION OF RESIDENTS IN AFFORDABLE HOUSING IN THE CITY COUNCIL. MUCH OF WHAT WE DO AT THE LOCAL LEVEL IS ADMINISTERING FEDERAL PROGRAMS.>>COULD YOU ELABORATE ON THE ISSUES THAT YOU BELIEVE ARE THE ONES THAT ARE MOST IMPORTANT FOR YOUR CONSTITUENTS?>>THE MOST IMPORTANT ISSUE IS AFFORDABILITY. YOU HAVE EVERYDAY NEW YORKERS, EVERYDAY RESIDENTS IN THE BRONX WHO ARE STRUGGLING TO KEEP PACE WITH THE COST OF LIVING, WHO ARE STRUGGLING TO PUT FOOD ON THE TABLE AND PAY THEIR RENT AND KEEP THEIR FAMILIES AFLOAT. THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT NEEDS TO INVEST MORE IN AFFORDABLE HOUSING. THERE ARE 20 MILLION HOUSE HOLDS THAT PAY MORE THAN HALF THEIR INCOME TOWARD THEIR RENT. THERE ARE NEIGHBORHOODS WHERE HALF OF THE WHOLE NEIGHBORHOOD PAY MORE THAN HALF THEIR INCOME TOWARD THEIR RENT AND THAT’S BEFORE YOU FACTOR IN THE COST OF CHILD CARE AND HEALTH CARE AND FOOD AND TRANSPORTATION. AND SO OUR COUNTRY SHOULD BE INVESTING $100 BILLION ANNUALLY TO CREATE SOMEWHERE BETWEEN A HALF A MILLION AND A MILLION UNITS OF AFFORDABLE HOUSING. OUR GOAL SHOULD BE TO ENSURE THAT EVERY AMERICAN HAS A RIGHT TO SAFE, DECENT HOUSING.>>YOU KNOW, WHEN YOU ANNOUNCED YOU WERE RUNNING, YOU TWEETED ON THAT SAME DAY THAT YOUR STORY WAS THE STORY OF THE BRONX.>>YEAH.>>HOW SO?>>MY STORY IS THE STORY OF THE BRONX BECAUSE IT’S A STORY OF OVERCOMING. IT’S A STORY OF STRUGGLE. I KNOW WHAT IT’S LIKE TO BE RAISED BY SINGLE MOTHER WHO HAD TO RAISE THREE CHILDREN IN THE 1990s WHEN THE MINIMUM WAGE WAS $4.25. I KNOW WHAT IT’S LIKE TO BE A YOUNG CHILD IN PUBLIC HOUSING, AN ASTHMATIC STRUGGLING TO BREATHE IN HIS OWN APARTMENT. AS A CHILD THE MOST COMMON PLACE I WOULD VISIT BEYOND SCHOOL AND MY HOME WAS THE EMERGENCY ROOM BECAUSE I HAD ASTHMA ATTACKS REPEATEDLY TRIGGERED BY HOUSING CONDITIONS LIKE MOLD AND LEAKS. I KNOW WHAT IT’S LIKE TO HAVE FAMILY IN PRISON. I HAVE TWO HALF BROTHERS IN PRISON. NOT ONLY HAVE I STUDIED THE ISSUES AFFECTING THE SOUTH BRONX, BUT I’VE LIVED THEM. I BRING NOT ONLY GOVERNING EXPERIENCE. I BRING WISDOM THAT COMES WITH LIVED EXPERIENCE.>>YOU’RE ONE OF THE FIVE OPENLY GAY MEMBERS OF THE CITY COUNCIL. YOU ED EVEN THOUGH YOU CAME OUT EARLY TO YOUR FAMILY AND FRIENDS, IT WAS BEYOND THE RUN FOR CITY COUNCIL THAT YOU CAME OUT TO PEOPLE BEYOND YOUR FAMILY AND FRIENDS. HOW TOUGH WAS THAT?>>IT’S NEVER EASY TO BE PART OF AN OPPRESSED MINORITY BUT IT WAS AN EASY DECISION. IN POLITICS THE MOST IMPORTANT VALUE IS INTEGRITY. IF YOU ARE DISHONEST ABOUT WHO YOU ARE IN YOUR PERSONAL LIFE, YOU’RE GOING TO BE DISHONEST AS A PUBLIC OFFICIAL. IFELT IT WAS IMPORTANT TO BE HONEST AND OPEN ABOUT WHO I WAS, TO LIVE BOTH MY PROFESSIONAL AND PERSONAL LIFE WITH AUTHENTICITY AND WITH INTEGRITY. AND THAT DECISION HAS SERVED ME WELL.>>YOU ALSO — WE NOW KNOW THAT YOU ALSO BATTLED DEPRESSION FOR A FEW YEARS. THE DEPRESSION SEVERE ENOUGH THAT AT ONE POINT YOU CONTEMPLATED SUICIDE.>>YEAH, BACK IN 2007, I DROPPED OUT OF COLLEGE BECAUSE I WAS BATTLING DEPRESSION. MY GRANDPARENTS HAD DIED. I FELT THE WORLD AROUND ME HAD COLLAPSED. I FELT A PROFOUND SENSE OF FAILURE. THERE WERE MOMENTS WHEN I EVEN THOUGHT OF TAKING MY OWN LIFE. AND THEN SIX YEARS LATER, I BECAME THE YOUNGEST ELECTED OFFICIAL IN THE LARGEST CITY IN AMERICA. SO, THE LESSON LEARNED FROM MY LIFE IS EVEN IN YOUR MOMENT OF GREATEST DARKNESS AND DESPAIR, NEVER LOSE HOPE.>>YOU WEREN’T AS OPEN ABOUT THAT IN YOUR FIRST FEW YEARS OF PUBLIC LIFE, BUT YOU STARTED TO OPENLY TALK ABOUT IT A FEW YEARS AGO. WHY DID YOU KEEP IT PRIVATE EARLIER ON, AND WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO GO AHEAD AND TALK ABOUT IT PUBLIC?>>BECAUSE WHEN YOU’RE A PUBLIC OFFICIAL, YOU HAVE AN OBLIGATION TO TELL YOUR PERSONAL STORY. MY STRUGGLES WITH DEPRESSION, SHARING MY STRUGGLES WITH DEPRESSION TO THE WORLD MEANS SILENTING THE STIGMA AND THE SHAME THAT SURROUNDING MENTAL ILLNESS IN AMERICA. IT’S ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT ISSUES AFFECTING OUR SOCIETY. WHETHER IT’S OVERINCARCERATION OR OPIOID CRISIS OR CHRONIC HOMELESSNESS, AT THE HEART OF ALL THESE PROBLEMS IS MENTAL ILLNESS. THERE’S NO SET OF PEOPLE WHOM WE ARE FAILING MORE MISERABLY AS A SOCIETY THAN THE SEVERELY MENTALLY ILL WHO ARE LEFT TO DIE THE ON OUR STREETS WHO OFTEN ARE OVERINCARCERATED.>>NOW, THERE ARE A NUMBER OF PEOPLE RUNNING IN THE DEMOCRATIC PRIMARY FOR THE 15th CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT. BUT YOU HAVE ALMOST EXCLUSIVELY FOCUSED ON ONE OF THOSE OPPONENTS, THAT’S YOUR COLLEAGUE IN THE CITY COUNCIL, DIAZ, SENIOR. YOU SAID THIS CONTEST WITH HIM IS PERSONAL. EXPLAIN WHY.>>REVEREND RUBEN DIAZ IS HOSTILE TO EVERYTHING THAT I BELIEVE. YOU KNOW, HE HAS BEEN A SUPPORTER OF THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION WHICH I CONSIDER AN EXISTENTIAL THREAT TO AMERICA. HE HAS CAMPAIGNED WITH REPUBLICAN SENATOR TED CRUZ IN THE SOUTH BRONX. THERE’S A REAL RISK THAT A TRUMP REPUBLICAN MASSACRE RAIDING AS A DEMOCRAT COULD REPRESENT THE MOST DEMOCRATIC DISTRICT IN AMERICA. HE IS ANTI-LGBT. IN 2011 HE WAS THE ONLY TO VOTE FOR MARRIAGE EQUALITY. HE SAID THAT THE CITY COUNCIL IS CONTROLLED BY A HOMOSEXUAL CABAL. HE SAID THE GAY OLYMPICS WOULD LEAD TO THE SPREAD OF AIDS. I VIEW HIS CAREER AS AN ASSAULT ON MY HUMANITY, MY DIGNITY, AND MY EQUALITY AS AN AMERICAN CITIZEN.>>HE HAS BEEN ELECTED TO ONE OFFICE OR ANOTHER FOR 18 YEARS IN THE BRONX. AND HE HAS BEEN VERY VOCAL ABOUT THESE POSITIONS. SO, HIS CON TSTITUENTS WHO VOTE FOR HIM SEEM TO EITHER AGREE WITH HIS POSITIONS OR NOT TO THINK THEY’RE SO ODIOUS THAT HE SHOULD NOT BE ELECTED TO OFFICE. HOW DO YOU INTEND TO DEAL WITH THOSE VOTERS? DO YOU INTEND TO OVERWHELM THEM OR HOPE TO WIN THEM OVER?>>LOOK, I AM — I’M GOING TO — THIS RACE IS NOT WON ON RUNNING AGAINST RUBEN DIAZ, SENIOR, RIGHT? I’M GOING TO WIN IT ON THE STRENGTH OF MY OWN STORY, MY OWN RECORDS, MY OWN BOOTS IN THE BRONX. I’M GOING TO FOCUS LIKE A LASER ON THE ISSUE OF JOBS. THE CANDIDATE THAT SPEAKS TO BRONX RESIDENTS WILL WIN THE ELECTION.>>MELISSA IS ALSO RUNNING IN THIS PRIMARY. SHE IS, AS YOU PROBABLY KNOW, THE CITY COUNCIL SPEAKER, A POSITION THAT YOU SOUGHT.>>YEAH.>>SO, WHY YOU AND NOT HER?>>I’M THE BEST CANDIDATE. I’M ROOTED IN THE BRONX. I HAVE SIX YEARS OF GOVERNING EXPERIENCE WITH INVESTIGATIONS, WITH OVER SEEING THE LEGISLATIVE BOARD IN THE UNITED STATES, BUT I ALSO HAVE LIVED EXPERIENCE. I KNOW WHAT IT’S LIKE TO STRUGGLE, WHETHER IT’S CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM OR MENTAL HEALTH OR HOUSING OR HEALTH CARE. I KNOW THOSE ISSUES BECAUSE I’VE LIVED THEM FIRSTHAND.>>CONGRESSWOMAN ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ IS RIGHT NEXT DOOR TO YOUR DISTRICT. SHE REPRESENTS CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT 14. YOU’RE IN 15. YOUR RACE AND HER RACE ARE SIMILAR. NOT ONLY THAT, THEY SAY YOU AND HER ARE VERY SIMILAR. DO YOU THINK THAT’S ACCURATE? TELL US WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE SIMILARITIES AND THE DIFFERENCE?>>I HAVE ENORMOUS RESPECT FOR CONGRESSWOMAN ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ. SHE IS ONE OF THE MOST EFFECTIVE QUESTIONERS THAT I’VE SEEN IN CONGRESS. SO, WHAT WE SHARE IN COMMON IS A COMMITMENT TO AGGRESSIVE OVERSIGHT, AGGRESSIVE QUESTIONING, HOLDING GOVERNMENT ACCOUNTABLE. BUT WE’RE FUNDAMENTALLY DIFFERENT PEOPLE. I’M MY OWN PERSON WITH MY OWN STORY AND MY OWN RECORD AND MY OWN ROOTS IN THE BRONX. SO, I WOULD PREFER TO BE JUDGED IN MY OWN TERMS RATHER THAN IN RELATION TO SOMEONE ELSE.>>SO, CITY COUNCIL MEMBER TORRES, THE PRIMARY IS IN JUNE OF NEXT YEAR. AND IN YOUR DISTRICT, WINNING THE PRIMARY MEANS –>>YES. THE PRIMARY IS THE ELECTION.>>– IS THE ELECTION. IF YOU PREVAIL IN JUNE, WHAT WILL BE YOUR FIRST ORDER OF BUSINESS WHEN YOU GET TO WASHINGTON?>>INTRODUCE A BILL THAT WOULD MASSIVELY INVEST IN THE AFFORDABLE HOUSING. WE SHOULD CREATE ENOUGH AFFORDABLE HOUSING IN THE BRONX AND ELSEWHERE IN AMERICA SO THERE’S NO AMERICAN HOUSE HOLD THAT PAYS MORE THAN HALF ITS INCOME TOWARDS RENT. A MASSIVE STIMULUS PACKAGE, A MASSIVE NEW DEAL FOR AFFORDABLE HOUSING.>>>WE’LL BE INVITING THE OTHER MAJOR CANDIDATES RUNNING FOR THE SEAT IN THE 15th CONGRESSIONAL
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DISTRICT, SO STAY TUNED.

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