Maxwell Frost could become the first Gen Z member of Congress

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Maxwell Frost, a Democratic candidate for Congress, on his way to be interviewed on a podcast in Orlando. (Photos by Thomas Simonetti for The Washington Post)
Maxwell Frost, a Democratic candidate for Congress, on his way to be interviewed on a podcast in Orlando. (Photos by Thomas Simonetti for The Washington Post)

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ORLANDO — One week after winning his first-ever political campaign, Maxwell Alejandro Frost was grappling with a fresh decision: Where should I go on vacation?

Plans to ride roller coasters with his girlfriend in Tampa were scrapped due to unpredictable stormy weather, and now Frost was deciding between rerouting to Miami or Charleston in South Carolina. He wasn’t convinced any of it was a good idea.

“There’s so much to do because I just want to hit the ground running in January,” he said during an interview earlier this week at his quiet campaign office in downtown Orlando. “But a lot of the advice I am getting is, you can do all that and not go as hard as you had to go in the campaign essentially.”

Frost, who turned 25 in January, had just overcome the biggest hurdle in his quest to get to Congress, winning a grueling primary in a reliably Democratic district that will likely end with him coasting to victory in November.

But House Democrats had already warned him to take a break. Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) had even given him an ultimatum, Frost recalled: “You got to text me by Monday where you’re going.” “I actually need to do that,” Frost said, promptly looking down at his phone and beginning to type.

Frost was a relatively unknown name outside of his hometown before August, when he won a 10-way Democratic primary against some rivals who had served in office before he was born. He has no political experience and no college degree, but interest in his candidacy — and his personal story — has skyrocketed as pundits openly wonder if his perspective is a necessary injection of energy for a party that remains largely under the leadership of octogenarians.

As he remains cognizant of maintaining the right work-life balance, Frost is also trying to find his footing as an expected new member in a chamber he describes as having “a lot of structural problems.” That means staying true to his political identity as a young liberal, but he is also pushing back against the perception that he would frequently challenge or fully rebel against leadership, as other fresh House Democratic faces before him have done.

“I got a call from the speaker who congratulated me and she said she thinks it will be very refreshing to have my presence on the Hill,” Frost said, referring to Democratic lawmaker Nancy Pelosi of California, who is roughly 60 years his senior. “So we’ll see.”

Unconventional path to Capitol Hill

If elected in November, Frost would become the first member of Congress to hail from Generation Z, the term bestowed upon those born after 1996. Like many in his generation, Frost is a good multitasker. keeping up with conversation without missing a beat while often texting with one hand as he holds a red Solo cup in the other.

Wearing a crisp blue suit and white button down, Frost looked overdressed in what now looked like an abandoned office as his team moves to a larger space shared with national Democratic campaigns. He often made sarcastic jokes or quipped about what was left, at one point gesturing to his district map and saying the tacks on it marked the best restaurants in the area.

But unlike many in his generation, he admits not being great at TikTok, which he barely used in his campaign. And he does not shy away from his Southern Baptist faith, talking about it openly as a motivator for him politically though he understands “the skepticism around organized religion.”

Born to a mother who already had several children and often experienced violence around her, Frost was hospitalized for weeks as a newborn, his small body shaking from withdrawals to his mother’s crack cocaine addiction. He was adopted at birth and raised in a Cuban American household where Spanish was primarily spoken. His adopted mother and grandmother left Cuba for the United States during the Freedom Flights in the early 1960s. He wishes Republicans “good luck” with trying to paint him as a Socialist, saying, “My family fled that.”

Frost has faced discrimination as an Afro Latino, recalling the “racial hate” he received while protesting the killing of George Floyd in 2020, an experience he described as “traumatic.” He quit his job as an organizer to run for Congress, which he acknowledged “has been very difficult both financially and emotionally.” At night, Frost drives for Uber, his yellow Kia Soul serving as a conduit that provides him a source of income and a place to quickly convince a rider to vote for him. He may continue the gig after he is in office.

“I think those experiences give me an insight that maybe, you know, some other folks have not had, especially White folks, you know, in Congress,” he told The Washington Post.

The school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., sparked his activist spirit at 15. It motivated him to protest and organize against gun violence as shootings continued across the country, including at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, which is now in his district. He took online college classes while working for the ACLU, helping mobilize Florida voters to pass two amendments that would raise the minimum wage to $15 and restore voting rights to former convicted felons. Frost is about a year shy of graduating college, which he intends to do.

Frost was working as a national organizer for March for Our Lives, the gun violence prevention group created by students who survived the high school shooting in Parkland, Fla., when activists nudged him to consider running for office as rumors swirled Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.) would campaign for the Senate. Kevin Lata, his campaign manager, said Frost spoke with about 200 union, community and faith leaders about a possible candidacy.

But it took reconnecting with his birth mother in June 2021 to fully convince him to run. It was then that he learned of the extreme hardships she experienced without any path to help break the cycle of violence, poverty and drugs she often found herself in. It pushed him to realize he could help those suffering like her in Congress, but he often reminds people he is “not a savior” for everyone’s top issue. “One dude from Orlando is not going to fix that,” he said.

Frost officially launched in campaign in August 2021 at the age of 24, before he was constitutionally eligible to hold office. Besides running to end gun violence, Frost hopes to help enact Medicare-for-all, pass more climate reforms and provide more housing, among other issues. He campaigned on redefining what it means to be a politician, telling those in his community that he would remain close to the community while fighting to ensure justice for all.

An ‘unusual’ 25-year-old candidate

It was Frost’s life story and desire to give back that caught the eyes of several high-profile liberals including Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), who all cited his activist roots in the gun violence space as a necessary addition to the House.

Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.), a fellow organizer who is only 10 years Frost’s senior and also Black, followed Frost on Twitter before seeing him on MSNBC a month after launching his campaign. He was struck by Frost’s message and poised delivery, which he said is “really unusual for a 25-year-old.”

“His political sophistication, maturity and commitment to values, it eclipses those of many of his future colleagues, young and old,” Jones said. “I am impressed with how he has navigated many of the pitfalls that some of my progressive colleagues succumb to, and his ambition to be not just a rank and file member of our caucus but a leader among us.”

Frost said Jones was the first sitting member of Congress to contact and give him advice. Over the past year, they have spoken often on a daily basis. Jones has counseled Frost on how to navigate the House Democratic caucus and the importance of establishing a hard-working staff who will not be afraid to disagree with him.

Jones’s recent reelection loss means he will not be able to mentor Frost within the halls of Congress, something both friends regret. But Frost said he is already building a close relationship with other Democrats running for office.

He talks often with Greg Casar, who likely will be elected to represent a new Democratic district in Texas. Delia Ramirez, who is running in a district north of Chicago, stopped by to see Frost on his primary election day while she was vacationing here. The political community Frost is building is also helping him sort out what kind of politician he would like to be. But for now, he is not making promises.

“I think one of the reasons there is so much voter apathy is because for generations we have had politicians tell us, ‘If you vote for me, everything will be okay,’” he said. “I feel like the only thing representatives can really promise to their people is what they believe in and what they will fight for, and the way in which they are going to govern in their community. But to tell people, to promise results, I think, is disingenuous.”

Being a liberal member of Gen Z often brings with it some stereotypes, including the presumption Frost will likely join “The Squad,” a group of Millennial liberal lawmakers who have remained unapologetically outspoken against Democratic leadership.

But Frost skirted questions about whether he sees himself joining the group, noting “there is not one way to do everything,” though he admired Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) sitting on the House steps to successfully prevent an eviction moratorium from lapsing. “I’m not saying I’m going to be doing sit-ins every week in Congress. I’m not saying that. But there is a time and place for everything,” he said.

Though he still has to win the general election, where he also plans to play a major role in turning out voters to defeat Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), Frost sees himself influencing the party by helping recruit young members like him to run for national office. After what he candidly described as “the hardest year of my life,” Frost wants to make it known how difficult it is for someone without the financial means to run for office.

“I don’t want someone to hop into this and end up with no resources and in a worse position because they just wanted to help their community,” he said. Those trials, however, have helped him understand the tough decision-making many Americans are facing in an unreliable economy. “So maybe it is also important for people to go through it,” he said about future lawmakers.

In the meantime, Frost is preoccupied with questions many face when they are on the cusp of starting a new job. Like how to impress colleagues on his first day. During a recent meeting with House Democratic chairman Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) and a member of his staff, Frost noticed both were wearing dress shoes with a sneaker sole, a popular style on Capitol Hill that alleviates standing hours on hard marble floors while also looking professional.

“I have to get some,” Frost decided, before debating whether to just buy comfortable inserts for his dress shoes. “I’m young. I feel like if I show up there in tennis shoes, there is going to be some talk of, ‘Oh the Gen Z-er, disrespecting the decorum of Congress,’” Frost said with a laugh. “I think only time will tell how my presence on the Hill and me being a member of Gen Z is different.”



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