Metro Weekly

Gay Congressman Mondaire Jones Loses Primary

Most LGBTQ candidates fared well in New York and Florida's primaries on Tuesday, including a Democrat seeking an open congressional seat.

U.S. Rep. Mondaire Jones – Photo: Alex Acaro.

On Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.) lost his bid for Congress in a new district, following a court-imposed redistricting process that disadvantaged Democrats and initially placed him against a fellow gay member of Congress.

In 2020, Jones, along with fellow New York Congressman Ritchie Torres, became the one of the first two openly Black gay men to serve in Congress, a historic feat. But a flawed decennial redistricting process brought his career — at least temporarily — to an abrupt end.

In several states, attempts have been made to take partisanship out of the redistricting process, but only a handful of states have instituted significant safeguards against political interference by self-interested politicians, either by having an independent tiebreaker (Arizona), vetting applicants to serve on a citizen’s redistricting commission (California), or ensuring a number of independents outside of the two major parties (Michigan, via a voter-approved initiative done independently of the stat legislature) sit on a commission.

Unfortunately, for Jones, New York’s process (like other states, including Ohio and Virginia) was constructed in a way that allowed more political manipulation and, despite being “bipartisan,” was more likely to result in a deadlock over partisan maps. 

After the redistricting commission failed to produce maps due to a deadlock, Democrats in Albany pushed through intensely partisan congressional maps. But Republicans sued over those maps, and, with a sympathetic judge on their side, managed to force a redraw of the state’s various political districts, including its congressional districts. Under the new court-imposed lines, that meant that Jones, a native of upstate Rockland County, was placed in the same district as fellow Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney, another openly gay member of Congress — and powerful head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Despite living in the new 17th Congressional District, most of Maloney’s old constituents live in the new 18th District, yet Maloney insisted on running where he resides. Rather than challenge Maloney in a primary, Jones decided to relocate to the new, incumbent-free 10th Congressional District located in Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn. But having relocated to the district only recently, as well as jumping into an already-crowded field, hampered Jones’s bid for office. As a result, Jones ended up finishing third, with only 18% of the vote, behind winer Daniel Goldman, an ex-U.S. attorney who prosecuted the first impeachment case against Donald Trump, and State Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou.

While Jones has locked up the Working Families Party nomination for the general election, Goldman, as the Democratic nominee in a liberal-leaning district, is heavily favored. While Jones could potentially try to challenge Goldman in a Democratic primary in two years — particularly if he emerged as the liberal alternative to the more conservative Goldman — it seems that, at last over the next two years, there may be fewer out LGBTQ members in Congress overall. 

Besides Jones’s loss, three of the current nine LGBTQ members of Congress — Sharice Davids, Angie Craig, and Chris Pappas — face difficult re-elections, due to their own redistricting woes in their respective states, and even Maloney is considered vulnerable in the new, swingier (albeit slightly more Democratic-leaning) 17th District in what many believe will be a strong year for Republicans.

LGBTQ Victory Fund, which advocates for LGBTQ representation in elected office, issued a statement lamenting Jones’s loss as “deeply sad.”

“We’ve lost a fierce advocate and LGBTQ pioneer in Congress who used every ounce of his political power to fight for a more equitable and fair America,” LGBTQ Victory Fund President and CEO Annise Parker said in a statement. “We look forward to supporting Mondaire’s continued work in Congress this year as well as his future advocacy. It’s abundantly clear to all who know him that his call to public service is a lifelong endeavor. We look forward to our continued partnership and friendship.”

Democratic nominee Robert Zimmerman (left) and Republican and Conservative nominee George Devolder-Santos (right) – Photos: Facebook.

LGBTQ candidates in New York appeared to fare well in other races. In the 17th District, despite its partisan lean, Maloney beat back a challenge from State Sen. Alessandra Biaggi, one of a new generation of progressive upstarts in the state who had defeated a conservative incumbent for the seat she currently holds. In New York’s 15th Congressional District, Ritchie Torres was renominated for re-election. And in the open 3rd Congressional District, newcomer Robert Zimmerman, a gay man and public relations maven, won the Democratic primary to represent a competitive swing district that includes parts of Long Island and Queens.

If elected, Zimmerman — who like Jones, was also endorsed by LGBTQ Victory Fund — would become the first openly gay person in Congress to represent a part of Long Island.

“Robert’s win tonight is a testament to his proven leadership, exceptional qualifications and grassroots support,” Parker said in a statement. “From growing up closeted in the 1970s to now being the Democratic nominee, he has proven time and time again his unwavering belief — and determination — that progress is not just possible, but necessary. As legislation moves through Congress to codify same-sex marriage, reproductive health care access and other critical rights for our community, we are confident Robert will be a fearless voice for his community and LGBTQ people across the country.”

But the 3rd Congressional District race will also provide a historic first: with Republicans having nominated George Devolder-Santos, a finance professional who came close, but ultimately ended up losing to former Congressman Tom Suozzi in the 2020 election, the nominees of both major parties will be openly gay men. Under New York’s fusion voting system, Santos has also earned the nomination of the state’s Conservative Party, meaning he’ll appear on the November ballot twice, with votes from both Republican and Conservative lines adding to his total number of votes.

Meanwhile, in races for New York State Senate, out LGBTQ Senators Jabari Brisport (D-Brooklyn) and Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan) were renominated for re-election. But LGBTQ candidates’ success in primary elections was not limited to New York.

In Florida, incumbent State Sen. Shevrin Jones (D-West Park), who became the first out LGBTQ person elected to the Florida State Senate in 2020, was renominated for re-election in a heavily Democratic district, almost ensuring his re-election. In addition, LGBTQ candidates Eunic Ortiz and Janelle Perez won the Democratic nominations for Florida’s 18th and 38th Senate Districts, representing parts of the Tampa Bay Area and Miami-Dade County. If elected, the two would become the first LGBTQ women in Florida history to be elected to the state’s upper legislative chamber. 

Incumbent State Reps. Michele Rayner (D-St. Petersburg) and Carlos Guillermo Smith (D-Orlando) were renominated for re-election to the Florida House of Representatives. In addition, Adam Gentle won the Democratic nomination for a House seat in a swing district that includes the Florida Keys. 

“Florida has been ground zero for anti-LGBTQ legislation this year, most of which was aimed at LGBTQ children,” Parker said in a statement praising LGBTQ Victory Fund’s endorsed candidates in the Sunshine State. “The unfortunate reality is that this wave of hate will not stop unless we activate our political power and push back. … Our message is clear: we won’t stop fighting, we won’t stop organizing, and we won’t stop running for office.”

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