At any point over the past year, anyone hailing a ride on Uber in Orlando could have had a future congressman behind the wheel.
“There are a few times where people noticed me,” Maxwell Frost said. “Sometimes it would come up in conversation, but I usually didn’t really openly solicit it. Because I was usually pretty tired. And I was just kind of doing the rides.”
Frost, at just 25 years old, would make history as the first Generation Z member of Congress if he defeats Republican Calvin Wimbish in November. District 10, which includes Orlando and much of central Orange County, is heavily Democratic.
Frost, a gun reform activist and Black Lives Matter protester, defeated two former Congress members and a state senator in the Aug. 23 primary, getting almost 35% of the vote in a 10-person field. He also substantially outraised them as well, taking in more than $1.5 million.
Since winning the nomination, he’s been praised by U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders as a voice of the future. He’s also been criticized by his opponents, and some fellow organizers, for the stories he tells about himself.
Maxwell Alejandro Frost was born in Orlando in January 1997, the very month that the Pew Research Center later determined to be the beginning of “Generation Z,” distinct from the Millennials now in their late 20s and 30s.
“It’s not to say older generations don’t have the urgency, but we view [things] through a different lens,” Frost said. “It means the world that I have the possibility of being the first, and I take comfort in knowing I’m not going to be the last.”
His biological mother was “caught in a cycle of drugs, crime, and violence,” he said, and put him up for adoption. He called himself a proud Afro-Latino, with his adoptive mother and grandmother having come to the U.S. from Cuba “with only a suitcase and no money” during the Freedom Flights in the late 1960s.
Frost attended Endeavor Elementary School in Orlando and later the Osceola School for the Arts in Kissimmee, where as a 14-year-old he co-founded a salsa band, Seguro Que Sí. A picture of a teenage Frost playing the timbales ran in the Orlando Sentinel in 2013 after the band was chosen to march in President Obama’s second inaugural parade.
He was at a restaurant before one of his band’s concerts in 2012 that he first saw images from Newtown, Conn., of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary that killed 26 students and teachers.
“Seeing that had an impact on me,” Frost said. “I couldn’t play right at the show that night. I kept thinking about it. I went to D.C. for the national vigil that was going on.”
At the vigil, he said he met Matthew Soto, whose sister Vicki Soto was a teacher killed at Sandy Hook.
“Seeing a 16-year-old … crying over his sister, who was murdered for just going to school, changed my life forever,” he said.
Frost began working as an intern and then full-time on political campaigns, including for President Obama and Hillary Clinton. He joined the ACLU of Florida, where he led the field campaign for Amendment 4, which restored the vote to most former felons, and later worked for the national ACLU.
After getting a call from activist David Hogg, a Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting survivor, he began working for the gun reform group March for Our Lives, where he was the national organizing director.
In between his work hours, Frost took classes at Valencia College, where he is still a few credits short of graduation.
Linda Coffin, a fellow gun reform activist from Orlando with the gun reform group Moms Demand Action, said Frost “has compassion, and he has passion.”
“I’m 67 years old,” she said. “I’m on the other end of the spectrum of age. And I just am really excited about his energy, about his enthusiasm, his education, his knowledge, but [also] his willingness to listen to people and really care about what they say.”
During the campaign, Frost’s primary opponents, including state Sen. Randolph Bracy and former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, were critical of Frost’s claim that he was a survivor of gun violence in 2016, when someone pulled out a gun and started firing while he was downtown amid Halloween crowds.
“”He said he witnessed or heard gunshots with some friends,” Bracy said. “He claims he was a victim of gun violence when he wasn’t.”
Frost said he and more than 100 people ran from the scene, “fearing for our lives, not knowing, ‘Is there a bullet coming towards me? Is there a bullet in the air? When is it coming down?’ … Every single person there that ran, they’re all survivors of gun violence.”
Black Lives Matter
In the wake of George Floyd’s murder by a Minneapolis police officer in May 2020, Frost got involved in the Black Lives Matter protests that sprung up in Orlando and across the country.
“I banded with other folks and became one of the organizers who was a constant presence out there for months,” Frost said. “… As an organizer myself, I wanted to make sure that we were being safe and strategic, and ensuring people’s safety.”
Fellow protester Seven Charlestin, mutual aid director of the group Las Semillas, said of Frost, “any righteous cause that he thinks is necessary, regardless of time or place, he’ll be down to roll up his sleeves and get to work.”
Frost has not shied away from his protesting in his campaign, despite many Democrats backing away from criticism of police since 2020. Frost stated in one email he was “tear gassed, arrested and jailed — all for peacefully protesting on the front lines against our broken system.”
A video shot by a Orlando Sentinel reporter shows tear gas being deployed on a group of protesters, including Frost, in June 2020. Frost was later one of six arrested on Universal Boulevard in July 2020 in a demonstration aligned with “#OurBudgetOurBlock,” a series of protests against Orange County allocating more money for the sheriff’s office in its budget.
“That is an experience that I hold with me,” he said. “… I’m excited to take my experience to Congress to talk with folks about my first-hand experience.”
Despite the praise from fellow organizers, Frost’s campaign has not been uniformly welcomed.
The Florida Palestine Network put out a statement claiming Frost reversed himself on pro-Palestinian positions he took in a meeting with them and at a rally in 2021, including ending military aid to Israel.
“He completely turned his back on all of us … [in] the Muslim community and the Palestinian communities.” said Sana Hafeez, lead organizer for the group Orlando Dream Defenders. “We’re extremely disappointed, but we’re not very surprised, because I saw the traits beforehand. … I think an organizing career should not be just a lead-up to running for office.”
Frost said he never made any commitments about ending military aid to Israel, adding he was “both pro- Israel and pro-Palestinian” and wanted to work towards a two-state solution.
Running for office
Frost filed in June 2021 to run in District 10 after incumbent U.S. Rep. Val Demings announced a bid for U.S. Senate.
District 10, once considered a Black access seat and which encompassed almost all African American neighborhoods in western Orange County, was redrawn this year by Gov. Ron DeSantis and Republicans in the Legislature. Now, the Black vote is split down the middle and the district became majority white in the Democratic primary.
While Frost and most other Democratic candidates who had filed were Black, Grayson jumped in at the last moment, claiming “it’s not important, when you’re a congressman, how you look.”
Despite being a first-time candidate, Frost jumped out to an almost insurmountable lead in fundraising and blanketed the airwaves and social media. He released an ad with footage of himself confronting DeSantis about gun violence at an event in Orlando, including DeSantis telling him and other protesters, “No one wants to hear from you.”
Late in the campaign, Frost sent out flyers calling Bracy “compromised” and Grayson “corrupt,” which led Grayson to vow “consequences … real and substantial.”
A series of mystery texts were later sent to Democratic voters, including one tying Frost to “conservative crypto billionaire Sam Bankman-Fried.”
Bankman-Fried, a major Democratic contributor, was the biggest backer of Protect Our Future, a political committee promoting increased preparedness against the next pandemic.
The group spent nearly $23 million to promote 18 Democratic congressional candidates nationwide, including spending nearly $1 million each on both Frost and former state emergency management director Jared Moskowitz, a candidate in South Florida.
A Grayson ad that used similar language to the texts also attempted to tie Bankson-Fried to a “Cryptocurrency and Blockchain Advisory Council” Frost created last year, despite Bankman-Fried not being on the panel.
“The stretch is being made that [the PAC’s support] is directly related to crypto or something,” Frost said. “One of the founders of that organization is somebody who is into cryptocurrency. But I was never asked about cryptocurrency.”
While his campaign raked in money, Frost had personal financial issues. He had a $93,000 salary at March for Our Lives, according to disclosure forms, but he had to leave his job in 2021 to run for Congress.
So he started driving for Uber.
“I couldn’t work serving tables or anything because as a candidate for Congress, I needed to maintain a flexible schedule. I said, ‘Wow, the only thing I could really do is Uber, because I can just turn on that app, do my thing, turn it off, and go back to campaigning.’ And that’s what I did.”
Frost also currently lives with his sister and girlfriend, splitting the rent, after having spent a short period crashing with friends following a rent hike.
“If I had a family and kids, I wouldn’t have been able to do this,” he said. “We need to create a system that makes it easier for people to run for office, people who are working class people with families who understand these issues well.”
Frost won the primary by a substantial margin, despite the crowded field. While Bracy won nearly all Black majority precincts in his state Senate district in west Orange, said Matt Isbell, a Democratic elections analyst who runs the MCIMaps website, Frost did well in white and Hispanic precincts, especially around the University of Central Florida.
“It creates a little bit of an awkward situation,” Isbell said. “At least from an academic perspective, you can certainly say, ‘Yeah, the African American vote did not get to elect its candidate of choice.’ … But I don’t see Frost having any real trouble on the west end of the district. He’s going to have a great future there.”
Frost said he wants to make sure he regularly talks to constituents if elected. And he already knows one way of doing it.
“Who knows?” Frost said. “As a member of Congress, I might turn on that [ Uber] app every once in a while and just give some people some rides.”
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