By Ruben Avxhiu
The 117th Congress that was officially sworn in had a glaring difference for the Albanian-American community. For the first time after 32 years, Eliot Engel was not part of it.
Among the new members who took the oath of office however there is a young rising star who represents New York’s 15th district and who knows our community well: Ritchie Torres. His district includes also Arthur Avenue and the new “Little Albania”.
Rep. Torres is replacing in the House of Representatives, Jose Serrano, another household name who retired after serving for three decades. Serrano too was an early member of the Albanian Issues Caucus.
Before running for Congress, Torres served for several years in the New York City Council, representing a district that includes neighborhoods where Albanian-Americans live and work like Allerton, Belmont, Fordham and others in the Bronx.
Before that he served as a director in the office of Councilman James Vacca.
As the Democrats retained the majority in the House, Ritchie Torres made history in November by becoming the first gay Afro Latino ever elected to US Congress.
More importantly for the Albanian-American community, congressman Torres has shown a strong interest in foreign affairs and has promised to visit Kosova soon.
Harry Bajraktari, a businessman and community leader, organized last August a meeting between the Foreign Minister of Kosova, Meliza Haradinaj-Stublla and Ritchie Torres, a few weeks after he had won the Democratic Primary for the New York 15th district. They were joined in the meeting by other members of the Albanian-American community, Rrustem Gecaj, Dr. Sulejman Çelaj, and Lisa Milicaj, the first Albanian-American woman elected to office in New York State. Kosova Ambassador in Washington DC, Vlora Çitaku and a diplomat from Kosova’s Consulate in New York Lulzim Krasniqi also attended the meeting.
“Ritchie Torres will be a great representative for his district and I wish him all the luck,” Harry Bajraktari said today for Illyria newspaper. “He has told me that he will pick where congressman Engel left on the Albanian issues.”
Only a few moments before taking his oath, he wrote on Twitter: “It is the honor of a lifetime to represent the South Bronx.”