Gay, democratic-socialist candidate leads Clinton Hill state senate race in fundraising

Jabari Brisport, the out gay candidate who failed to get the bulk of the LGBTQ political club endorsements, has received the most grassroots campaign contributions.
Photo by Matt Tracy

Queer political groups are backing a straight candidate in the Clinton Hill’s state senate race, but small donors are throwing their support behind the gay candidate — and it’s not even close.

Out gay state senate candidate Jabari Brisport is turning heads as he makes good on his pledge to run as a “working class candidate,” out-raising all of his opponents in the Democratic primary to replace retiring State Senator Velmanette Montgomery, whose district encompasses Bedford-Stuyvesant, Clinton Hill, Boerum Hill, and Red Hook. 

Brisport, a schoolteacher and democratic socialist vying to become the first out LGBTQ Black member of the state legislature, has performed particularly well during the final stretch of fundraising in a race that also includes Senator Montgomery’s former aide Jason Salmon, who has strong LGBTQ support, and Bedford-Stuyvesant Assemblywoman Tremaine Wright.

In the most recent filing period, Brisport raked in $128,658 compared to Salmon’s $54,900 and Wright’s $15,425. In total, Brisport has greatly surpassed both opponents in fundraising so far, outraising Salmon by tens of thousands of dollars and bringing in 11 times Wright’s fundraising haul so far.

Brisport also boasts the largest number of donors. Brisport has received funds from 2,879 supporters, while 617 have donated to Salmon and less than 40 have donated to Wright. Brisport’s campaign is averaging just $37 per donation, far less than the $195 and $167 average donations for Wright and Salmon, respectively.

“I’m so proud of this campaign,” Brisport wrote in a tweet on May 26. “Not long ago, it would’ve been unimaginable for a socialist teacher to be a serious candidate. Now, we’re leading this race. We’ve proven that a people-backed candidate is more powerful than special interests or wealthy allies. Let’s win this.”

While Wright has been endorsed by Montgomery, Salmon has secured the backing of the Lambda Independent Democrats of Brooklyn (LID), the Stonewall Democratic Club of New York City, the Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club, and Equality New York, a statewide LGBTQ coalition with a political action committee. He also has the support of out gay Brooklyn Councilmember Carlos Menchaca.

Brisport’s endorsements include the Working Families Party, the Democratic Socialists of America, State Senator Julia Salazar, and out lesbian former gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon, among others.

While the gay candidate has built a formidable base of support and queer political clubs have welcomed Salmon with open arms, Wright has received pushback from the queer community in the district. She faced hostility from queer Brooklynites at an LID endorsement meeting in February when she was confronted over her refusal to support full sex work decriminalization, and she proceeded to blow off Stonewall entirely when it was time for the club’s membership to vote on a candidate in the race.

Brisport has built an intimidating war chest while running a campaign finance operation that does not include corporate cash or contributions from real estate developers, landlords, charter schools, lobbyists, or the fossil fuel industry. It is his second time running for office after he drew more than 9,300 votes as a Green Party candidate in an unsuccessful bid to unseat incumbent City Councilwoman Laurie Cumbo in 2017.

Brisport, who has ties to Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of the Bronx and Queens, sat down with Gay City News in February to discuss his campaign platform aimed at bolstering public schools, tackling gentrification and homelessness, supporting single-payer healthcare, and fully decriminalizing sex work, along with other key progressive positions.

But now, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, Brisport has escalated his advocacy for much-needed social programs while focusing his efforts on outlining his plan to address the crisis. He has called for the protection of Medicaid, the transfer of private hospitals to public ownership, and the cancelation of rent and debt payments.

The Democratic primary race, now less than a month away, is slated for June 23 — but voters will have the opportunity to vote by mail ahead of that date. Should Brisport emerge victorious, he would join out gay State Senator Brad Hoylman as the only out LGBTQ members of the state senate.

This story first appeared in Gay City News