BY STEVE ROTHAUS, srothaus@MiamiHerald.com
David Richardson, a 55-year-old forensic accountant and political newcomer, says he’s comfortable having made Florida history on election night.
“I am the first openly gay legislator in the history of Florida. And forever will be," said Richardson, who on Tuesday defeated three other candidates to represent state House District 113 in Miami Beach.
Richardson grew up in Orlando, earned biology and accounting undergraduate degrees at the University of Central Florida and a Master in Business Administration at the University of Tampa. After starting as a $10,000-a-year Pentagon auditor in Tampa, he joined what is now Ernst & Young. In 1993, he started his own CPA practice. Business brought him to Miami Beach in 1995 and he became a permanent resident in 2001.
“I often thought about getting involved in state government or helping some way. I decided this race would go to a newcomer and it was possible for me with my background to win," he said. "I’m a completely American dream story."
His father was a cab driver and factory worker; his mother worked in a meat-packing plant.
Now, Richardson says he is comfortable enough to invest in startup companies and work as an expert witness when he feels like it.
“I intend to dedicate the significant portion of my time to being a Florida state legislator,” he said.
Richardson, who won 33 percent of 9,458 votes cast in the Democratic primary, defeated Waldo Faura Jr., an insurance adjuster and activist; Adam Kravitz, an attorney and entrepreneur who co-founded the popular Jewish dating website JDate.com; and Mark Weithorn, husband of Miami Beach City Commissioner Deede Weithorn. There is no Republican challenger for the seat.
Until this election season, Florida was one of 17 states “with zero out state lawmakers,” said Denis Dison, spokesman for the national Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, one of several gay-rights organizations that supported Richardson. The other groups: Equality Florida, Florida Together and SAVE Dade, which invested about $50,000 in the Richardson campaign.
“It was a combination of hard dollars to the candidate and soft dollars for communications,” SAVE Dade Executive Director C.J. Ortuño said.
SAVE Dade, the county’s largest gay-rights group, and its political action committee also provided volunteers, phone banking, cellphones and office supplies to the campaign.
“Even though it was a grueling race and everyone worked really hard — and David was a phenomenal candidate — this is just the beginning,” Ortuño said. “This is one of those first steps.”
Richardson may be joined this year in Tallahassee by other gay lawmakers: Democrats Ian Whitney of Key West, Joe Saunders of Orlando and John Alvarez of Brevard County, along with Republican Scott Herman of Wilton Manors will be on the ballot in November’s general election.
“I’m very hopeful that there will be an LGBT caucus,” said Richardson, who during the campaign said, "I don't want people to vote for me or not vote for me because I'm gay. I just want people to look at my record.”
Richardson, who is single, said he and his volunteers “had a huge ground game” and that by Monday night they had attempted to knock on 15,092 front doors.
“And not one person in this very diverse district closed their door to me because I’m gay,” he said. “The people in this district wanted to elect the most qualified person. I did not have one person question me about my status as a gay man.”
His legislative priorities: schools and the state budget.
“The issue that’s most important to me is education,” Richardson said. “I got an incredibly good public-school education and went to UCF, which is a publicly supported university in Florida. I’m concerned about the cuts made in the last five years. I intend to get my hands very dirty and get into details of a $70 billion state budget. I have to believe there is a lot of waste and abuse.”
He has another priority, one that befits his place in history: passing state employment protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
“One of the first things that I would like to put on the table: Most people don't realize that in Florida you can be fired from a job for being a gay person,” he said. “I find that unconscionable. I’m going to be talking about that.”