Term-limited Brooklyn Councilmember Chaim Deutsch appears ready to take his local brand of bigotry to the national stage — and he wants to take out a member of his own party in the process.
The conservative Southern Brooklyn Democrat, armed with an extensive anti-LGBTQ voting record and a history of disturbing homophobic comments, is said to be launching a primary bid against Brooklyn Representative Yvette Clark in the Ninth Congressional District, according to an elected official who spoke to Gay City News on the condition of anonymity.
Deutsch has informed at least one other elected official of his plans and discussed the run during an event on December 5, the source said.
Deutsch has yet to file with the Federal Election Commission and he did not immediately return requests for comment. The congressional primary election takes place in June of next year.
Deutsch’s foray into national politics would represent a test of conservative politics in a district that spans as far north as the Prospect Heights section of Brooklyn and extends down to Sheepshead Bay. Parts of Clarke’s district overlap with Deutsch’s City Council district.
Clarke, who is the daughter of Jamaican-born former Councilmember Una Clarke, an early leader in Caribbean-American politics in the city, also did not immediately return calls seeking comment.
Clarke eked out a victory in a tight primary contest during the last election cycle, beating left-leaning challenger Adem Bunkeddeko — a one-time Working Families Party organizer, whose parents fled war-torn Uganda — by five percentage points, or less than 2,000 votes. Bunkeddeko is again competing for the seat as a progressive alternative to Clarke, while Deutsch would presumably occupy the conservative lane in that primary race.
Deutsch is vying for the promotion to Capitol Hill while he continues to show patterns of resistance to queer causes, with his most recent slight coming last month when he voted against bills intended to make it easier for loved ones to visit Hart Island, home to numerous individuals lost to AIDS.
But his blatant homophobia and transphobia runs much deeper than that, beginning in 2013 when he was running for his first term in Southern Brooklyn’s 48th District. He attacked an opponent, Theresa Scavo, during a Democratic primary debate for that seat because an LGBTQ-friendly group supported her.
“I have to say that, Theresa, you have the National Organization for Women’s endorsement, which, I don’t know how you could represent this community when they have an agenda with gays and lesbians,” he said during that debate, which was caught on video and posted on YouTube (in a clip whose status was changed to private in recent months).
Since then, he has spent years taking advantage of his power as an elected official — and as chair of the Council’s Veterans’ Committee — to resist LGBTQ rights. He voted against a ban on conversion therapy, rejected a resolution encouraging the Department of Education to offer curricular and other support for LGBTQ students, and opposed a law requiring the Department of Education to report on gay-straight alliances in the city. He also voted against a transgender rights measure that allows individuals to change the sex designation on their birth certificates.
Earlier this year, Deutsch became the only member of the City Council to vote against punishing Bronx colleague Ruben Diaz, Sr., in response to homophobic comments he made about gay people controlling the City Council.
Deutsch has also faced allegations of hostility to two out lesbian military veterans. The former president and founding director of the New York City Veterans’ Alliance, Kristen Rouse, a lesbian, told Gay City News that he once told her that his constituents are opposed to same-sex marriage and “that he cannot be seen supporting the equality of LGBTQ individuals, even if they are veterans,” and that he was avoiding meetings with the lesbian commissioner of the city’s Department of Veterans’ Services, Loree Sutton, who has since left that post and is running for mayor.
But — as if this makes things any better — Rouse said he told her he still has gay friends, including City Council Speaker Corey Johnson.
Deutsch’s relationship with both the Veterans’ Alliance and Sutton deteriorated so badly that Rouse wrote a letter to Johnson demanding that Deutsch start providing fair treatment to LGBTQ veterans. Johnson has shown reluctance to directly criticize Deutsch when Gay City News has sought comment from him on the lawmaker’s actions.
Deutsch’s comments during the debate and to Rouse were apparently representative of the norm rather than the exception. Lyosha Gorshkov, then-president of a LGBTQ group of Russian-speaking immigrants known as RUSA LGBT based in Deutsch’s district, told Gay City News earlier this year that Deutsch told him he voted against banning conversion therapy because he felt people should have a “choice.” Gorshkov also said Deutsch, who is an Orthodox Jew, told him that he does “not support same-sex marriage because it’s against my religion.”
Gorshkov spearheaded the formation of an annual Brighton Beach Pride event and said he invited Deutsch to attend to no avail. Following this year’s Pride event there, Gorshkov said that Deutsch told him he would not attend.
Deutsch’s foray into national politics adds to a growing list of anti-LGBTQ members of the city’s lawmaking body who are running for Congress. Diaz, Sr., whose homophobic record dates back at least 25 years to his criticism of the Stonewall 25/ Gay Games events of 1994, is running to replace outgoing Congressmember José Serrano in the 15th Congressional District, while his Bronx Council colleague Fernando Cabrera, who made a YouTube video in Uganda praising that nation’s leaders in their effort to enact a draconian anti-gay criminal statute, is trying to unseat Congressmember Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in the 14th District.
Jared Arader, president of the Lambda Independent Democrats, Brooklyn’s LGBTQ political group, reacted to Deutsch’s apparent congressional bid by telling Gay City News in a phone interview on December 6 that the Brooklyn lawmaker “has some explaining to do” regarding his voting record and homophobia.
Deutsch has been remarkably quiet about his record in public and is known to stay away from media inquiries about his votes.
“We look forward to him explaining his positions,” Arader said.
But LGBTQ voters probably shouldn’t count on that.