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Votes Are In: Mondaire Jones Makes History

by Nate McCarthy

Mondaire Jones is headed to Washington. The 33-year old Democratic candidate from Spring Valley has won a crowded and competitive primary for New York’s 17th Congressional District, and is set to become one of the first 2 openly gay black men in Congress, along with New York City councilmember Ritchie Torres (D-15).

“I’m so grateful for the people in Rockland and Westchester who came together and nominated a champion for working people,” said Jones, who ran on the most progressive platform NY-17 has ever witnessed. “We get better policy outcomes when we have more people in congress for whom policy is personal.”

For Jones, policy is personal. He grew up in Section 8 housing and his young, single mother worked multiple jobs to put food on the table. Daycare was too expensive, so he often accompanied his mother to work.

“No kid should have to go through what I was going through growing up,” said Jones, who has made universal child care one of the cornerstones of his platform. “I also know first hand that there is an urgent need for a $15 an hour minimum wage in this country and it is a huge priority of mine.”

After graduating from East Ramapo High School, Jones went on to study at Stanford University and Harvard Law School, and worked as an attorney in the Obama administration. But it was not long before he returned home to Rockland County, where he became known as an advocate for the public school students of the East Ramapo district.

On Monday July 8th, 2019, Jones announced that he would challenge incumbent Rep. Nita Lowey (D-17), who at the time, had been in congress for 30 years and represented NY-17 for 6 years. Lowey had drawn criticism for her support of the 1994 Crime Bill, which decimated low income communities and communities of color, and helped usher in an era of mass incarceration. Her support for the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which made discrimination against LGBTQ+ Americans legal, also marred her record.

But more than anything, there was the feeling that Lowey was not in touch with her district and the unique challenges and issues faced by Rocklanders.

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“It is important that we have someone in congress who knows what it’s like to live in Rockland, who knows what our most pressing issues are and is going to be visible in the community,” Jones said. “I am really excited to be on the cusp of giving Rockland County the representation that it urgently needs in Congress and that it has not had for generations”

On Tuesday, June 22nd, when the votes began to be tallied, it was evident that Jones had quickly amassed an insurmountable lead against his opponents, who included Adam Schleifer, a billionaire’s son who outspent Jones by 4-1, and Westchester native Evelyn Farkas, who served in the Obama administration and advised Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State.

“It was a grassroots effort unlike anything New York’s 17th Congressional District has ever seen,” said Jones. “I had the best team, one that a billion dollars could not buy.”

In the months leading up to the primary, there was a palpable excitement around Jones’ candidacy—the kind of excitement that is typically absent from congressional primary elections.

As the primary approached, Jones raked in high profile endorsements from progressive senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Fueled by a large team of volunteers, many of them high school and college students, Jones’ campaign made 10s of 1000s of phone calls and text messages to voters.

“Members in our group contributed, wrote emails, sent postcards, and made phone calls for Mondaire’s campaign,” said Marc Pessin of Rockland Coalition to End the New Jim Crow. “We know Mondaire will be an advocate for social justice when he gets to congress partially because he has personal experience about the needs of people who have been marginalized.”

While Schleifer seemed focused on prosecuting Donald Trump and Farkas was fixated on Russia, Jones hosted regular town halls and meet-and-greets to discuss the issues affecting the working people of his district. Among the most pressing of these issues was the coronavirus pandemic.

“COVID-19 has exposed the inadequacies in our social safety net,” Jones said. “When you don’t have paid sick leave, when you don’t have healthcare… that exacerbates the public health crisis we’re currently experiencing.”

Jones has thrown his support behind Rep. Maxine Waters’ (CA-43) legislation which would provide $2000 for every adult and $1000 for every child on a monthly basis over a 6 month period of time. “A one-time $1200 check is a big slap in the face for families in Rockland and Westchester county where it is extremely expensive to live,” he said.

In early June, as the Black Lives Matter movement surged throughout the country, sparked in part by the murder of George Floyd, Jones joined protesters in Nyack, Peekskill, Port Chester, Irvington, and other towns across the district, as they demanded an end to police brutality and systemic racism.

Jones would like to see funding for policing reduced and reallocated towards other community-based efforts that “improve public safety but do not involve the policing of Black and Brown bodies.” He mentioned social workers, public education, and youth employment as priorities.

“This country is facing a reckoning when it comes to racial justice issues,” Alphonso David, president of Human Rights Campaign told ABC News. “Voters are speaking up loudly about the path forward and how that path has to include people of color.” The Human Rights Campaign endorsed Jones in early June and recently offered him a formal congratulations.

Jones’ win comes as part of a wave of progressive victories in New York’s primary elections this year, which included a number of younger, candidates of color including Jamaal Bowman, a former principal in the Bronx, upsetting longtime representative Eliot Engel and representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez handily winning re-election. For the party’s progressive wing, these victories refute the argument that Democratic voters are not ready for bold, sweeping policy proposals.

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“We know from the data that progressive policies are overwhelmingly supported by the American People,” said Jones, pointing to the popularity of policies like Medicare for All and the wealth tax proposed by Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. “The Democratic Party needs better messengers on our most ambitious proposals. I’m really grateful to be one of those people. What I think the overwhelming victory we achieved shows is that the people of this district are largely progressive and they are hungry for the kind of leadership that I and other candidates are offering.”

Jones, who has been a resident of Rockland for most of his life, currently lives in South Nyack, where he has resided for the past 2 years. “It’s just a beautiful, quaint place that has a strong sense of community and incredible scenery.” The restaurants, the diversity, and the progressivism are a few of Jones’ favorite things about Nyack. When he’s not busy fighting for social change, Jones loves eating and trying new food. He’s also passionate about cinema, especially science fiction films. Travel is one of his favorite pastimes, though he expects to be doing a lot less of that for leisure in the future.

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