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2020 Congressional Representative Closing Arguments: Mondaire Jones

On June 23, New York is holding its primary elections. You can currently vote through mail-in ballot. Polls are open from 6a to 9p. Visit the Rockland County Board of Elections to learn where to vote.

by Mondaire Jones

If you remember one thing about me as you consider who to vote for in the Democratic Primary for Congress, let it be this: I’m running for Congress because, for me, policy is personal.

Unlike many of the people we are used to seeing in our politics, I don’t come from money or from a political family. I know what it is for a working family to struggle and rely on government assistance to survive, and I am going to bring those lived experiences with me to Congress.

I grew up in the small, working-class community of Spring Valley, where I was raised by a young, single mom who, like so many women throughout our district, and all throughout this country, worked multiple jobs just to provide for our family—even as we relied on Section 8 housing and food stamps to survive. When we talk about a $15 minimum wage being necessary at the federal level, that is personal for me.

My mom got help raising me from my grandparents.  My grandfather was a janitor at Pomona Middle School.  My grandmother cleaned homes in Congers and Hillcrest, and when day care was too expensive, she took me to work with her.  Now, I’m running to represent the same people whose homes I watched my grandmother clean growing up. When we talk about the fight for universal child care, that’s a fight I want to join when I get to Washington because I don’t want any kid to have to experience what I did growing up.

After my grandfather died of cancer, I watched helplessly as my grandmother worked well past the age of retirement just to pay for the high cost of prescription drugs and medical procedures not fully covered by Medicare. When I quit my job to try to better my community by running for Congress, I lost my health insurance. I believe health care should be a human right in a nation as wealthy as our own, not tied to employment status or economic means. That’s why I support Medicare for All.

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Rockland is an expensive place to live, and I’ve experienced that firsthand. My mom could only afford to raise me in Spring Valley with the help of a Section 8 voucher. And for too many families, housing expenses are unaffordable. In fact, 62,000 households in Rockland are “housing burdened,” meaning they pay more than 30% of their income toward housing costs. That does not even account for our sky-high property taxes. These costs make it nearly impossible for young people like me, who are also burdened with student debt, to afford to start their lives in our community. So when I talk about building more homes to expand our property tax base and bring down housing costs, that’s personal for me.

Climate change is personal for me, and in fact the environment is my number one priority. My generation is inheriting a planet that stands to be devastated by climate catastrophe because people who have been in office have failed to act with the kind of urgency the issue requires. According to the United Nations, we have 10 years left to decarbonize our economy or face catastrophe that threatens life as we know it. With 40 million people newly unemployed, there has never been a better time to invest in a green jobs program that would get people back to work on the crucial task of building sustainable housing and infrastructure. I will fight for a Green New Deal like my life depends on it, because as a 33-year-old, it does, and I know we cannot afford to wait.

And when Democrats huddle together to talk about how to respond to this President’s embrace of white supremacy, and his assault daily on members of the LGBTQ+ community, of which I am a part, I think that more people like me need to be at the table having that discussion and indeed driving the conversation. In fact, there has never been an openly gay, Black member of Congress in the 244-year history of the United States.

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As our nation engages in a conversation about systemic racism, there has never been a moment in American history when we have more urgently needed people in office for whom policy is personal. We will all get better policy outcomes that way. Representatives like me can be trusted to always fight for the best interests of their constituents, even when the doors are closed in the halls of Congress and our constituents can’t see what we are doing.

The fact is, I’ve been fighting my whole life. First, it was against the odds of my upbringing, to the point where I was able to make it to Stanford University; work in the Obama Administration at the Department of Justice, where I vetted candidates for federal judgeships and worked on criminal justice reform; and then attend Harvard Law School. I co-founded a non-profit called Rising Leaders, which teaches professional skills to underserved middle-school students in three American cities and received its second grant from the Gates Foundation last year. More recently, as a lawyer in government, I’ve been fighting in the courtrooms of Westchester County on behalf of my future constituents, litigating and winning some of Westchester’s biggest cases. Now, I’m running to fight for all of the people in Rockland and Westchester Counties. And I’ve been endorsed by people like Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and Julián Castro.

I hope you will join us.

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