Five years ago, David Richardson was the first openly gay state representative elected in Florida. Now the elected official is looking to become the first openly gay Congressman in the Southeast.
Richardson is running for Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s congressional seat. Earlier this year Ros-Lehtinen announced she would not run for re-election. Richardson said he's not necessarily relying on positioning himself as a gay legislator to garner votes.
"The way I've fashioned myself is I'm not going to Tallahassee or Washington D.C. as a gay legislator. I'm going as a legislator who just happens to be gay," Richardson said. "On the same token, however, we do need our gay representation in the Southeast. There's six openly gay members of Congress right now but no one from the Southeast. From Texas to Rhode Island, there is no openly gay Congressperson."
Richardson recently spoke to his constituents at a networking event for LGBT professionals at a private residence at the Murano Grande on Miami Beach Nov. 30. Over the weekend, he attended the Victory Institute Conference in Washington D.C., where he participated in a panel discussion about his Congressional campaign and his experience serving as a State Representative since 2012.
At both events, he laid out what his agenda in Washington would be if elected in Congress, including prison reform, healthcare, gun violence and LGBT issues. Richardson has been working on banning conversion therapy for gay minors and housing protections for LGBT individuals facing discrimination.
"It was great talking about the positive measures I have accomplished for the LGBT community, especially in the current political environment," Richardson wrote in a Facebook post.
He said in Congress, he would like to work on repealing the marriage equality prohibition "we still have on the books."
"We actually have a law that says every year we're supposed to clean up the books," Richardson said. "So I really want to work on getting that marriage equality prohibition off the books in much the same way a couple of years ago I was able to get the gay adoption ban off the books even though the courts had overturned it six years earlier."
Richardson is in his third term now as a State Representative. The north end of his district is in the city of Miami Beach. The district goes south along the coast all the way down to Cutler Bay and inland to Coral Gables and the area around Dadeland and Kendall, extending into Little Havana.
Richardson ran his first campaign in 2012 from Hotel Gaythering on South Beach when the building and business were in their beginning stages.
Gaythering co-owner Alexander Guerra said it's important to support local candidates, gay or straight, because "given the social climate that we are in right now and who we have leading this country, I think it's very important that we stick by each other and those who are doing good."
"There are plenty of people who are not ethical...and you want to stick by those who are," Guerra said. "And we will always support those people. It's not necessarily because someone is openly gay but because they are right for the job."
Richardson said he thinks he's been "very effective in working across the aisle and trying to get things done" for his community -- both gay and straight.
"The seat that I represent now in the state house sits 100 percent entirely within the congressional seat," Richardson said. "All of those folks that I'm representing now I will represent in the congressional seat, as well. The district that I represent is a Democratic seat. Of course, Tallahassee is controlled by…Republicans. A Democrat there has to figure out how to get things done to be effective, to bring home projects for the constituents and I've worked very well across the aisle to be able to do that. I know that I'll be able to do that in Washington, as well."
Former Miami Beach Commissioner Joy Malakoff has worked with Richardson for many years. She said he is the "best representative we've had for years and years in Tallahassee, and one of the reasons is David's background as a CPA" or certified public accountant.
"As a CPA, it's so important in Tallahassee with what they're doing with all the tax monies that they're getting...and he has done his best working from across the aisle," Malakoff said. "He knows how to work with the Republicans and the Democrats and he's been able to be very effective."
Malakoff said Richardson has "really gone above and beyond in his position to help in the criminal justice system in the state of Florida, which seems to be a very backwards system in this state."
"In some ways, Florida, excluding South Florida, is very much still an old-time Southern state," Malakoff said. "David knows the way to get to everybody. He's really the type of person that we need representing us here in Florida in Washington. And since he has the fiscal background, we need somebody with a background in finance to represent us. And I think that the next representative in Washington needs to be David Richardson."
Richardson said he was a little bit surprised when Ros-Lehtinen announced she was deciding to retire in 2018. He thought she would've stuck around through at least 2020.
"That would've been my bet," Richardson said. "She's been doing this a long time and has a big following. I don't know exactly her reasons for retiring in 2018 but I feel strongly the seat is going to flip. In fact, it's the No. 1 or No. 2 flip opportunity in the country depending on how you look at it. The demographics for this seat has changed so much. It's very much a Democratic seat right now. I'm really excited about it."
Besides being Democratic now the district is also Hispanic and Ros-Lehtinen is a very popular Hispanic Republican. Even though Richardson is not Hispanic, he’s not worried.
"Some people say only a Hispanic can win this seat,” Richardson said. "But the seat that I represent now, that I won in 2012, is about 68 percent Hispanic.”
Richardson said the other interesting thing about the district, as it pertains to the Democratic primary, is that the district is only 38 percent Hispanic, 12 percent African American and 50 percent Anglo.
"Once you get to the general then it becomes 60 percent Hispanic," he said. "The good thing is I speak a little bit of Spanish. 'Un poco de Español' goes a long way."