Six candidates are vying to become the next state senator in Florida's 35th District, a territory that includes parts of northern Miami-Dade County and the southern portion of Broward. At a campaign event last Thursday, Miami Gardens Councilman Erhabor Ighodaro, a Democrat, made his pitch for why he's the best option for voters.
"We still have people who have values in the Democratic Party. And we have values — we're gonna fight for our families, yes," he told supporters. "There is an image that God says a marriage should look like, that families should look like. And that's what we're gonna fight for."
Critics say the remarks seemed to be a response to Ighodaro's most formidable opponent, state Rep. Shevrin Jones, the first openly gay black lawmaker elected to the Florida Legislature. Yesterday the LGBTQ Victory Fund — a D.C.-based political organization that works to elect LGBTQ candidates — admonished Ighodaro for his comments and said they are representative of a larger "homophobic" campaign against Jones.
"What we are seeing from Erhabor Ighodaro is not simply a homophobic record or remark but an entire campaign aimed at inspiring hatred toward his opponent because of his sexual orientation," Annise Parker, president and CEO of the LGBTQ Victory Fund, stated in a news release. "Frankly, it is one of the most homophobic campaigns we've seen from a Democratic candidate this year."
The group posted a video of Ighodaro's speech on YouTube. The comments about "family values" begin after the five-minute mark:
Ighodaro did not respond to emails from New Times last night asking him to clarify his remarks and whether he would commit to protecting LGBTQ rights at the state level if elected.
In addition to criticizing Ighodaro's comments at the campaign event, the LGBTQ Victory Fund claims the candidate's "Family First" campaign slogan is an antigay "dog whistle." The group says it is aware Ighodaro's campaign staff has questioned voters in the district about "whether a gay candidate should represent them."
Jones tells New Times he's aware of an Ighodaro "whisper campaign" targeting him for his sexual orientation.
"I know this was a knock on me," Jones says. "And my advice to Councilmember Ighodaro is if his plan is to represent the people of Senate District 35, focus on what you're going to do for the people. Don't focus on me. People are looking to somebody to go to Tallahassee to be their champion, not their judge."
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Jones, who is a Christian, says Ighodaro's remarks about marriage are "dangerous" in today's political climate.
"Those type of comments have no place in public service. We see enough of it coming from Washington, D.C.," Jones says. "I mean, people are being murdered and killed because of who they are."
Jones and Ighobaro are two of five Democrats in the race for Senate District 35. Former state Sen. Daphne Campbell, of Scientology pizza-party fame, is also in the mix. Josue Larose, a serial candidate who has been cited for more than 2,000 violations of state election law, is the lone Republican vying for the seat.
To date, Ighobaro has raised a little more than $67,000 in his run for office. Jones leads the pack with nearly $211,000 in campaign contributions.