Busy night for queer candidates in primary races for Congress, State Senate

Robert Zimmerman, running to replace Congressmember Tom Suozzi, won his Democratic primary race and will face another out gay candidate, Republican George Santos, in the general election.
Zimmerman for Congress

LGBTQ candidates competed in primary races for Congress and State Senate across New York on August 23, yielding victories for many of the established queer elected officials heading into the general election in November. And while newcomers largely struggled to break through, one Congressional district concluded the night with gay candidates on both sides of the aisle, setting up a general election battle between two out competitors.

There were more than a dozen out candidates on ballots in New York, but much of the attention was on the hotly contested race for New York’s 10th Congressional District, where out gay Congressmember Mondaire Jones sought a second term on Capitol Hill in a new district and another out LGBTQ candidate, Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou, aimed to make the jump from Albany to Washington.

Dan Goldman, a wealthy heir to the Levi Strauss & Co. fortune who served as lead counsel in both impeachment cases against former President Donald Trump, eked out a narrow victory in that race. Niou finished close behind him and Jones placed third. Goldman, who received an unexpected endorsement from Trump during the final days of the campaign, said in a Jim Owles club questionnaire that he supports sex work decriminalization, but when asked if he would reject any bill promoting the so-called Nordic Model — which is a partial decriminalization approach — he said he would need to read the bill.

Jones will finish out his term and leave his post just two years after becoming the first out gay Black person elected to Congress when he rose to the House of Representatives alongside Congressmember Ritchie Torres, who is the first out gay Afro-Latino member of Congress. Unlike Torres, however, Jones was pushed out of his original home turf in District 17 as a result of redistricting, and he instead pivoted to the crowded competition in NY-10.

Meanwhile, further north in the redrawn 17th District, out gay Representative Sean Patrick Maloney — who is the chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee — appeared to easily stave off a primary challenge from State Senator Alessandra Biaggi. Maloney had 67% of the vote on election night, paving the way for his November general election battle against Republican Assemblymember Mike Lawler.

While Jones’ defeat marked the loss of an LGBTQ representative in Congress, out gay candidate Robert Zimmerman of District 3 won an open Democratic primary race to replace outgoing Congressmember Tom Suozzi. Zimmerman, who is co-president of ZE Creative Communications, will go on to face out gay Republican nominee George Santos in the general election. The winner of that race will be the first out gay member of Congress to represent Long Island.

There were also out candidates who suffered losses against established incumbents. Congressmember Hakeem Jeffries of District 8 secured nearly 86% of the vote against out lesbian candidate Queen Johnson, who had 13%, while Nydia Velázquez cruised to victory yet again over out non-binary candidate Paperboy Love Prince, who previously ran against Velázquez in 2020.

In the Democratic primary race for NY-11, out queer combat veteran Brittany Ramos Debarros came in second place behind Max Rose, who rolled to victory in the first step of his quest to regain his former seat.

While the spotlight was on the Congressional races, State Senate primary competitions translated into notable results for out LGBTQ incumbents. Brooklyn State Senator Jabari Brisport, the first out gay Black member of the New York State Legislature, knocked off his competitors in blowout fashion — including Conrad B. Tillard, who was endorsed by Mayor Eric Adams. Out gay State Senator Brad Hoylman of Manhattan also won his primary with ease as he held a 40-point edge on election night.

The night was tougher for LGBTQ candidates who did not have the advantage of being an incumbent. Out candidate Kaegan Mays-Williams, a former Manhattan assistant district attorney, had just 16% of the vote on election night in her campaign against longtime State Senate Kevin Parker. Angel I. Vasquez, an out candidate competing for State Senate in District 31, trailed incumbent Robert Jackson by nearly 20%, and out bisexual candidate Sarah Blas failed to gain traction in an open race for District 23, where Jessica Scarcella-Spanton built a 40-point lead over multiple competitors.