Flexing Grassroots Muscle, Brisport Leads State Senate Rivals in Fundraising

Jabari Brisport, the out gay candidate who failed to get the bulk of the LGBTQ political club endorsements, has outclassed his competitors in gathering grassroots campaign contributions.
Matt Tracy

Queer political groups are backing a straight candidate in the 25th State Senate district in Brooklyn, but small donors are throwing their support behind the gay candidate — and it’s not even close.

Out gay Brooklyn State Senate candidate Jabari Brisport is turning heads as he makes good on his pledge to run as a “working class candidate,” outraising all of his opponents and attracting by far the most donors in the Democratic primary competition to replace outgoing State Senator Velmanette Montgomery in the 25th district.

Brisport, a schoolteacher 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 features former Montgomery aide Jason Salmon, who has strong LGBTQ support, and Assemblymember Tremaine Wright.

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In the most recent filing period ending this month, Brisport raked in $128,658 compared to $54,900 for Salmon and $15,425 for Wright. Brisport has leapfrogged Salmon in fundraising at this point: In total to date, outraising him by tens of thousands of dollars — $171,554 vs. $142,630 — and bringing in 11 times that of Wright’s $15,425 haul so far.

The most eye-popping number of all, however, could be an encouraging sign for the queer candidate’s prospects on election day: Brisport has brought in contributions from 2,879 donors, compared to 617 for Salmon and less than 40 for Wright. Brisport’s campaign is averaging just $37 per donation, far less than the $195 and $167 average donations for Wright and Salmon, respectively.

Brisport also seems well-positioned for the last several weeks of the campaign, carrying $89,138 on hand compared to $27,503 for Salmon and $44,539 for Wright, who transferred $43,075 from her Assembly campaign account to her State Senate campaign in January.

“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 the queer political clubs have welcomed Salmon with open arms, Wright is poised to get snubbed by the community in the district, which includes portions of Fort Greene, Boerum Hill, Red Hook, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Sunset Park, Gowanus, and Park Slope. 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 that 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 Councilmember Laurie Cumbo in 2017.

Brisport, who has ties to Congressmember Aexandria 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, the passage of the New York Health Act, and the canceling of rent and debt payments, in addition to other initiatives specified on his campaign site.

He has also been active on social media, where he has highlighted the plight of marginalized communities that have been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic and warned government leaders against cutting crucial services for the masses. He also participated in a video discussion with the LGBTQ Victory Fund, which endorsed him, about addressing the coronavirus within the queer community.

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.