Daniel Torres, now 22, first became a New Paltz school board member before he even graduated high school. Before that, the Times Herald-Record named him one of their “10 under 20” for his work to get Olympia sporting goods store to donate to his school.
But Torres has also come a long way: He’s campaigned for Barack Obama (twice), finished his term on the school board and he started a student Democrats club at Marist College. He’s now the Northeast director for the College Democrats of America — a group that also named him a rising star. Recently, he headed to Charlotte, NC as a delegate at the Democratic National Convention.
While he didn’t get a backstage pass to see the president, Torres said he had a few celebrity run-ins on his trip. The Secret Service motorcade bringing back Vice President Joe Biden to the hotel made it extremely hard for him to get around Charlotte each evening. He saw James Carville and the Rev. Jesse Jackson. He also ran into Sen. Al Franken in the airport and Congressman John Lewis, of Georgia, on the street outside the convention.
For Torres, meeting Lewis — a protest-hardened Civil Rights activist from the ’60s — was like meeting a hero. “I assumed people knew more about him, but they didn’t because I was with a large group of New York delegates. No one recognized him but me,” he said. “But John Lewis was one of the original Freedom Riders. He brought students down from the North, registered students in the South — African-American students — got them ready to vote. He got beaten terribly every time he did this.”
In 1963, Lewis shared the podium with Martin Luther King Jr. on the day he gave his “I Have a Dream” speech, delivering an address of his own. “He was my age at the time,” he said. “It was cool. He was just standing on the street corner. I just kind of walked over to him, and I thanked him for his service.”
The national convention went by like a whirlwind, but Torres tried to take in as much as he could. He hit up Carolina Fest, a large political street festival which took place on Monday. He listened to speakers each morning with the other New York State Democratic delegates.
“That was really cool actually — to get to kind of walk around and get to see people you obviously don’t normally get to see,” he said.
Torres also documented a lot of his time down in North Carolina the way usually does — in photos. He got some great shots of First Lady Michelle Obama and Senate hopeful Elizabeth Warren.
Despite being out of the spotlight locally, New Paltz’s youngest-ever elected school board member is keeping busy. Torres decided not to run for re-election to the school board last May in an effort to focus more closely on his college work. This year is his final year at Marist, where he’s studying communications and political science. He’s also working as a staffer for Assemblyman Frank Skartados in the Newburgh office — on top of a part-time gig at Moxie Cupcakes in New Paltz.
So what’s next for him? “Well, I definitely want to stay in the Hudson Valley — specifically New Paltz. I plan on staying in New Paltz,” he said, adding that he’s going to stick with politics. “I’d like to continue in that field in our area.”
He added: “I’d like to start a family here, if I’m so fortunate to do that.”
Torres said he hasn’t ruled out running for office again once he graduates. “I really enjoyed my time on the school board. It was a good learning experience,” he said. “So I was proud of my time there. Yeah, I would definitely consider running for something again — if it was something I thought I could contribute in a positive manner to.”
Being on the New Paltz Board of Education at age 18 was a challenge — he found people accepting of him, but he always felt like he needed to earn their trust and be more than just the young guy. “I think there were a lot of people who thought of it as almost an elaborate senior prank,” he said.
But he took it seriously. Months before he ran, he sat on the school board as the student representative from the high school. He listened to the issues and used that as a basis for his campaign.
“I always thought to myself that sitting here I represented a younger group. And I wanted to be able to show that, yes there are younger members in our community — that means they have a voice too,” he said. “But at the same time I never wanted to be just the guy who represented the young people.”
Torres said that during his time on the board he found himself procrastinating on writing college term papers, but never with his preparation for school board meetings.
“A lot of it had to do with that passion from other people. I really had to take time and think about it. There were times I took votes on things and I literally wrote a ‘pro and con’ list,” he said. “‘What does this mean to me’ and ‘what does this mean to someone who is, maybe, on a fixed income, who is a widow?’
“I realized it’s not always about what I think — or what my social group thinks. We are a broader community with diverse opinions and you have to try your best to think of everyone. You can’t always do that, but you without a doubt have to try.”