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Conservative Democrat and young gay politician fight over open House seat

Ritchie Torres and Rubén Díaz Sr. are both Latino members of the New York City Council from the Bronx running to replace retiring Rep. José Serrano, but their differences far outweigh their similarities.

Torres is a 31-year-old gay man who became the youngest member of the city council in 2014. A staunch progressive who has endorsed Bernie Sanders, Torres has advocated on behalf of public housing tenants during his time on the council. He has also taken aim Jared Kushner, sponsoring a bill passed in the council that closed what was known as the "Kushner loophole" and strengthened the regulation of construction permits in the city. 

The 76-year-old Díaz, whose son is the borough president of the Bronx and a possible contender in the 2021 mayoral race, is a local Pentecostal reverend and former member of the New York state Senate who has garnered support due to his advocacy on behalf of his predominantly Hispanic and black community. He has also long opposed same-sex marriage, criticized the LGBTQ community, and campaigned with conservative Republican Sen. Ted Cruz during the 2016 New York primary. 

The Bronx seat is one of the most heavily Democratic in the country, and the primary's winner will have a pronounced leg-up in the general election.

Díaz, a flamboyant figure known for his trademark cowboy hat, was besieged by calls to resign in February after he said that the council was "controlled by the homosexual community." Corey Johnson, the city council speaker, is openly gay and HIV positive, and there are several openly gay members of the council.

"What's homophobic about saying that the gay community controls the nyc city council?" Díaz wrote on Twitter shortly after he made the comments. "I'm giving them credit for the power and influence they have."

The committee Díaz was chairing in the council was subsequently dissolved, with Torres making an impassioned speech on the council floor condemning his colleague's comments before the vote to dissolve the committee.

"I for one do not want his damn apology. I want the council to make an example of him, and make an example of him we will. Today we will let it be known that when an elected official uses the power of his office to stoke the fires of bigotry, there will be consequences and those consequences will be severe and swift," Torres said in his February speech.

Díaz has called himself the "opposite" of progressive Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. He has referred to himself as a "conservative Democrat" and also opposes abortion.

Torres, who formally announced his campaign this week, has already raised over $500,000, according to his filing with the Federal Elections Commission released Monday. Díaz, meanwhile, has raised $82,000.

Several other candidates have filed to run, but so far, Torres and Díaz are the obvious frontrunners. Torres told the New York Times in an interview that his head-to-head competition with Díaz was "truly a struggle for the soul of the Bronx."

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