Editor’s note: This first in a two-part series.
They might call newly-minted assistant deputy county executive and New Paltz councilman Dan Torres “the comeback kid.”
At the end of 2016, Torres’ position as confidential secretary to then-comptroller Elliott Auerbach was, “defunded” upon the recommendation of county executive Mike Hein and the county legislature. Critics called Torres a “political operative” with little apparent input to the day to day operation of the comptroller’s office. Torres denies that. “I actually expanded the scope of the job quite a bit,” he said. Supporters said Torres was a victim of long-standing animosity between the executive and the comptroller. Both, one a friend, the other foe, have since moved on to high-paying jobs in state government.
Torres, who served as Pat Ryan’s deputy campaign manager in the special election for county executive, has moved on as well, and up. With no fanfare, acting county executive Adele Reiter, after conferring with Ryan, last month appointed Torres as assistant deputy executive, replacing Judy Riley who was nominated as head of the office for the aging. Moving from the fifth floor in the county office building (the comptroller’s office) to the sixth (the executive suite) carries a near-$20,000 pay raise to about $75,000 from his former position and considerably more influence.
Torres, who admits he’s “bounced around a bit,” says he’s in this job for the longer haul, “mostly because I like and respect Pat Ryan and for the challenge.”
It appears Torres has some faith in Kismet, as demonstrated by a family story. His grandmother, now in her 80s, was “very proud to have been a committeewoman and poll watcher in Manhattan for over 50 years,” Ryan said. During the 1964 presidential election, she was carrying Torres’ father and “due any minute” and working the polls on election day. Early signs of labor would not drive her from her duties.
“So, shortly after she had the baby the next day, we got a letter from the president congratulating her on the new arrival and thanking her for her dedication,” Torres said. “We don’t seem to have documentation on that, but knowing my grandmother, we choose to believe it.” Democratic genes don’t get much tighter than that.
Torres, who turned 29 in early May, is what some might call “an old soul.” Active in school politics since high school at New Paltz, Torres was elected to the school board while still in school. He got himself elected to the first of two four-year terms as town councilman while a student at Marist College. He holds a bachelor’s degree in integrated marketing communications, with a minor in political science, disciplines that neatly fit his life work to date.
In one of those six degrees of separation, Torres seems connected in one way or another with almost every Democratic politician in the last ten years. After college he signed on as a volunteer in Auerbach’s first campaign for comptroller in 2008. Auerbach cites Torres’ attention to detail, focus and energy as factors in what was a close campaign against future town of Ulster Supervisor Jim Quigley. He went on to volunteer for former Congressman Maurice Hinchey’s last campaign in 2010. “I helped them set up their social media network,” he said, and not incidentally helped Hinchey, 70, connect to a rapidly growing younger segment of the Democratic Party. The old soul, it seems has become something of a bridge between old and new Democrats and now between county executive administrations.
His tenure with Auerbach ended badly, but Torres, just 26 at the time, wasn’t done with politics. He had worked in Zephyr Teachout’s 2016 congressional campaign and again in her campaign for state attorney general two years later. He was instrumental in recruiting and convincing Juan Figueroa to run for sheriff last year.
“It wasn’t easy,” he said. “Juan had come off two losing campaigns for town office in Plattekill and just wasn’t interested in a county-wide campaign. It took a few tries, but we convinced him he could be nominated and that he could win. He told me that if he was going to run, he wanted me on his team.”
Torres’ inspiring “this is our time” nominating speech at the Democratic convention launched Figueroa’s successful run for sheriff against three-term Democratic-Republican incumbent Paul Van Blarcum.
Next: Torres squeezes Pat Ryan into a busy schedule.