During an endorsement meeting that featured an out gay candidate and a testy exchange with a state assemblymember about sex work decriminalization, the Lambda Independent Democrats of Brooklyn (LID) opted to throw their support behind a former aide to outgoing State Senator Velmanette Montgomery ahead of the June 23 Democratic primary race to replace her in the 25th District.
Jason Salmon, who spent nearly three years as a community liaison under Montgomery, landed the club’s endorsement at the meeting at Crystal Lake, a bar in Williamsburg. The club also endorsed Congressmember Carolyn Maloney, who represents portions of Manhattan, Queens, and Brooklyn, as well as Brooklyn Assemblymember Joe Lentol and district leader candidate Kristina Naplatarski, who is aiming to represent the 50th Assembly District.
Salmon previously won endorsement from the Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club, another LGBTQ group.
The significant issue that emerged at least in the race for the 25th Senate District was sex work. Assemblymember Tremaine Wright, a candidate in that race, was grilled about the issue after reports emerged late last year that she and State Senator Liz Krueger plan to propose a limited decriminalization bill that would gut penalties only for sex workers themselves but not for their clients or those facilitating their sex work. DecrimNY, the local coalition working to decriminalize sex work, has long opposed what it sees as half-measures — often billed as the Nordic Model or the Equality Model — insisting that full decriminalization is the best way to reduce stigma facing sex workers, lower the risk of human trafficking, and give the workers more autonomy and personal safety in carrying out their business.
Among multiple questions asked of Wright included why she did not sign on as a co-sponsor to a bill vacating convictions for sex trafficking victims despite more than three-dozen of her Assembly colleagues doing so. She defended her posture on that measure, pointing out that she voted for it last June.
“There are a thousand bills, so, no, I am not on every bill that I support or every bill I voted for,” she said.
While Wright prefaced her points about decriminalization by stressing the importance of aiding sex workers with social support and healthcare, she also waded into deep water, saying that with full decriminalization cops would no longer “have any interest to go into those spaces to seek those people out who are being harmed.”
DecrimNY advocates have repeatedly countered that argument by saying that their approach would allow for greater law enforcement effectiveness in combatting trafficking.
But Wright insisted, “We’re very concerned about the idea of having just a legalized system where we would anticipate that it would be quite common that those who we want to protect are actually those who are being exploited.”
Advocates on the other side have made clear that they only want decriminalization — not legalization.
Last year, Gay City News reported that Wright and Krueger gathered with French and Swedish officials to discuss “how to advance the Equality Model at NY state level,” according to a tweet from France’s consul general Anne-Claire Legendre, sparking fear at DecrimNY that an alternative decriminalization effort would compete with its legislative priorities. At the LID meeting, Wright invoked those two nations, saying, “We do think that France is more of a model than Sweden and we are also trying to find out more details about how that operates,” though she did not elaborate.
Wright did, however, go on to say, “Very few of those who are in sex work tell me that their heart’s desire is to be and to stay in it.”
Left unspoken was the economic necessity many sex workers face without other employment opportunities.
The testy exchange about sex work strongly foreshadowed the likelihood that Wright would leave the bar without the endorsement, meaning the club would have two remaining options, Salmon and Jabari Brisport, who both support the comprehensive sex work decriminalization bill introduced in the State Legislature last year. The three candidates agree on the effort to repeal a “Walking While Trans” loitering law that has been used to target transgender women of color generally as well as sex workers specifically.
Brisport, a public school teacher who spoke at length to Gay City News earlier in February, told members that he hopes to become the first queer person of color to sit in the State Senate and presented his campaign as one inspired by intersectionality.
“When I’m fighting for housing justice, I’m fighting for all the queer youth who are tossed out in the cold,” he said. “When I’m fighting for the New York Health Act, I’m fighting for all the people in our community who are HIV-positive or can’t get the medication they need, for members who can’t get access to PrEP or access to hormones they need to transition. When I’m fighting for decarceration, I’m fighting for trans women of color and their right to exist and not get harassed by police.”
He added, “I’m fighting for Layleen Polanco because cash bail should never have been a thing. Solitary confinement should never have been a thing.”
Polanco, a trans woman of color, died after suffering an epileptic seizure while in “restrictive housing” on Rikers Island last June.
Salmon was the final candidate to speak — and his experience working for Montgomery may have been a critical factor in wooing members searching for an alternative to Wright, who has twice won election to the Assembly.
Salmon, who is the son of an African-American father and a Jewish mother and has volunteered with Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, vowed to be an advocate for police accountability but also subtly emphasized his experience as a political insider. The reason he is not taking real estate or corporate donations, he said, is because “I’ve actually been at the table where I’ve seen private interest money influence” projects in the borough.
In listing his credentials on police accountability, Salmon noted that he worked on helping pass the city’s Right to Know Act, a package of police reform bills that nevertheless faced criticism from some Council progressives including Brooklyn’s Brad Lander and Jumaane Williams, now the public advocate, and Queens’ Donovan Richards, who said the measures did not go far enough in putting a check on law enforcement.
Following the meeting, LID’s president, Jared Arader, argued that all the candidates who appeared from the several races demonstrated a clear dedication to the community but he gave a special nod to those the club endorsed.
“Our endorsements represent the views and values of the members of our club,” Arader said. “These candidates best reflected the type of commitment to our community that we want to see in our elected officials.”