Mondaire Jones could be America’s first gay black member of Congress

Mondaire Jones greets potential voters
Mondaire Jones greets potential voters Photo: Campaign photo

Congressional candidate Mondaire Jones says that for him, policy is personal. Running as a Democrat to represent New York’s 17th district, Jones says his own experiences as an LGBTQ Black man who grew up in poverty motivate him to fight for what he believes his constituents deserve.

“It drives my commitment to a vision of justice and equity and integrity,” he says, “and it makes me, I think, the candidate in this district who [voters] can uniquely trust to always fight on their behalf and on behalf of all Americans.”

Related: Will New York’s next Attorney General be a gay black man?

Jones decided to run for Congress because he did not think members of his party were fighting hard enough to get things done. “That is not exclusive to any one individual,” he says. “That is I think a systemic issue in our politics, in particular within Democratic politics.”

He believes he can fight harder. “I think I am uniquely situated to galvanize communities that have historically been shut out of the political process,” he says, “and leverage that to apply pressure on Republicans in Congress who are not speaking to the views of most Americans, who are being allowed to get by because so many people are disillusioned with our politics that they’re not paying attention to what’s going on and they’re not holding their representatives accountable.”

The communities to which he’s referring, he says, are low-income communities, communities of color, and the LGBTQ community.

Jones is a graduate of Stanford University and Harvard Law School. Before law school, he worked for the Obama Administration’s Department of Justice, where he assisted with judicial nominations and co-authored a report on reducing recidivism with Attorney General Eric Holder. While he has held many positions throughout his career, he says his time at the Department of Justice was by far the most meaningful.

“I was part of a group of young people who were for the first time in their lives part of this transformational change in our government in service of everyday people, led by someone we could believe in and who seemed uniquely situated to lead us into the future.”

Jones also co-founded Rising Leaders Inc., a nonprofit that teaches leadership skills to middle school students. His most recent position was as a lawyer for Westchester County.

If Jones wins this race, he will become the first openly LGBTQ Black man in Congress. This, he says, would mean quite a lot.

“I spent the majority of my 32 years on this earth struggling with my sexuality, being afraid of being open about that with the public because it would result in isolation and would foreclose opportunities to me. So if I had had somebody to look up to growing up, someone in our politics who was Black and gay and a respectable person such as myself, it would have made my process of coming out much easier.”

He hopes his candidacy can inspire those who are struggling. “I think about young people, especially young people of color, who are queer in this country who are contemplating things like suicide and whether they can go into a profession like politics. I’m fighting for those people. The representation I would provide I think would be transformational.”

Jones considers his LGBTQ identity crucial to his passion for fighting for marginalized people, but he doesn’t see himself as “the gay candidate.”

“I’m running as the guy who knows what its like to struggle economically, and who exemplifies the American dream,” he says. “Because despite the odds of my upbringing, I went to Stanford University and Harvard Law School, and worked in the Obama Administration’s Department of Justice, and then worked in the Westchester County Law Department fighting for residents of this district.”

Jones grew up in Rockland County, located in the 17th district, with a single mom working multiple jobs, in addition to relying on a Section 8 housing voucher and food stamps.

He describes his district as “a tale of two cities.” In some parts, there is great affluence, and in others there is great poverty, fear of ICE raids, and soaring home prices. “We pay the highest property taxes by county in the entire nation,” Jones says.

As such, he says one of his priorities is restoring the state and local tax deduction, which the Trump Administration capped at $10,000 and which he says adversely affects homeowners in his district.

Jones’ other major priority: the Green New Deal. “If we can’t have an inhabitable planet, than any of the other things I care about don’t matter so much.” He also supports Medicare for All, a $15 minimum wage, universal childcare, criminal justice reform, and other progressive policies.

The Democratic Primary in New York will take place on June 23rd, 2020. Jones is currently running against two other Democrats, State Assemblyman David Buchwald and State Sen. David Carlucci. When Jones entered the race, he thought he’d be running against current Rep. Nita Lowey, who is chair of the House Appropriations Committee and has represented this district since 1989. Lowey announced earlier this month that she will not be seeking reelection.

Jones believes he is better positioned to connect with his constituents than his competitors. “I am the only person in my race who knows what it’s like to be an everyday person,” Jones says. “I am not a career politician. I don’t come from wealth or some other privilege.”

On October 24th, Jones was endorsed by the Victory Fund, which works to help elect LGBTQ people to public office. Annise Parker, President & CEO of the Victory Fund and former Mayor of Houston, says Jones’ race, like many will be in 2020, is highly competitive.

“The Trump Administration is a great recruiter for Democratic candidates,” she says.

While the Victory Fund does seek to help elect LGBTQ people, Parker emphasizes that they don’t endorse just anyone who identifies as such. “We don’t endorse candidates unless we believe they can have a positive impact,” she says.

The organization has strict standards for who they endorse and vet the candidates as extensively as they can. In 2018, Parker says, more than 700 LGBTQ candidates ran in both local and national United States races. The Victory Fund endorsed 274.

No matter the outcome in Jones’ race, Parker says his candidacy is important to the LGBTQ community. “We believe every election matters,” she says, “and whether candidates win or lose that race, that community wins when folks run openly and out.”

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