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Sean Patrick Maloney, the first out congressman elected from New York and a star of the Trump impeachment hearings, added another "first" to his resume Thursday.
Maloney was elected chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which supports the party's candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives, in a vote by Democratic House members Thursday morning. He is the first out gay man and first member of the LGBTQ+ community overall to hold the post.
His competitor for the job was Rep. Tony Cardenas of California. Rep. Cheri Bustos of Illinois stepped down from the chair position after this year's election, in which Democrats maintained their House majority but saw their advantage shrink from 35 seats to 12, by the latest count (a couple of races have yet to be called).
"I am honored to earn the trust of my colleagues to lead the DCCC in this pivotal moment in history," Maloney said in a statement.
"There is so much on the line for American families right now. As we work to recover and rebuild from this pandemic, it will be essential that we have strong leaders in Congress who will fight for the health and success of every American. In partnership with the Biden Administration, the Democratic Party will fight for the people, strengthening our communities from coast to coast.
"A strong Democratic majority in 2022 will be essential to our fight. I will work every day to improve our campaign operations, connect with voters across lines of difference, protect our incumbents, and expand our majority. I thank my peers for their confidence, and can't wait to roll up my sleeves and get to work."
Nearly 150 LGBTQ+ leaders, including many state and local elected officials and prominent activists, sent a letter to House Democrats this week in support of Maloney. The letter cited his electoral and fundraising success. He was first elected in 2012, defeating a Republican incumbent, to represent New York's 18th Congressional District, located in the Hudson Valley, north of New York City. He was just elected to a fifth term, even though the district leans Republican and Donald Trump carried it in the 2016 presidential election. He recently told CNN he found the 2020 election results encouraging because "as a gay guy with an interracial family, I won a Trump district five times." He and his husband, Randy Florke, have three children.
"He has mentored LGBTQ candidates in New York and nationally, and has helped raise millions for candidates across the country, while also raising nearly $20 million through his campaign committee and leadership PAC since 2012," the letter reads. "He has a strong network of New York and national donors, and is a proven and effective fundraiser. In addition to his fundraising skills, we are confident that his ability to flip his seat and continuously win in a Trump-carried congressional district will forge a path forward for other Democratic candidates -- LGBTQ and straight -- in purple or red districts. In order to serve the Biden Administration, Democrats will need to keep and expand their majority, so strong leadership at the DCCC is critical to our success as a party and as a nation."
Before running for Congress, Maloney was a lawyer, a technology entrepreneur, a staffer in President Bill Clinton's White House -- the highest-ranking out gay man there -- and an aide to two Democratic New York governors. In a letter to colleagues during his run for the DCCC position, he cited his diverse background as well as the fact that he ran a review of the DCCC after the 2016 election, recommending various changes that led to the blue wave that flipped the House from a Republican to a Democratic majority in 2018. He has promised to conduct a similar review now.
LGBTQ+ groups praised the selection of Maloney as DCCC chair. "There is enormous power in Congressional Democrats choosing an out gay man to serve as chair, especially after an election cycle where anti-LGBTQ attacks on candidates became the norm," Annise Parker, president and CEO of the LGBTQ Victory Fund, said in a statement. "Sean believes running diverse candidates makes the Democratic Party more competitive and will prioritize ensuring they build on their majority with candidates that reflect the demographics of America. In 2020, the National Republican Campaign Committee operationalized anti-LGBTQ rhetoric to a new level. He will be a chair who forcefully stands behind candidates who face anti-LGBTQ, racist or sexist attacks and will refuse to allow those tactics to succeed. We are thrilled Democrats in Congress elected Sean and we know they made the right choice."
Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, issued the following statement: "Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney's election as Chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is an important milestone for LGBTQ people and another example of a Democratic Caucus leadership team that reflects the diversity of our country. With Congressman Maloney in leadership, LGBTQ people across the country will have a seat at the table and a strong advocate to fight for us and make progress on key issues of equality.
"Maloney's historic election will encourage more LGBTQ candidates to run for Congress, including and especially underrepresented members of our community, including queer candidates of color, so we can achieve full representation of our diverse community. The Human Rights Campaign congratulates Congressman Maloney on his historic election and stands fully behind him as he begins this new role."
The "biggest challenge" coming up for the DCCC, Maloney told CNN, will be to develop relationships with "the people we don't already agree with, while not selling out the core principles we stand for."
"I think there's a lot of people with opinions [about what Democratic candidates should do] and nobody really knows," he added, stressing the need for extensive research. "I like to say, if you're not God, bring data."