Election 2024

Mondaire Jones says it’s “progressive to be pro-Israel” as he aims to get back into Congress

Mondaire Jones says it’s “progressive to be pro-Israel” as he aims to get back into Congress
Candidate for Congress Mondaire Jones Photo: Mondaire for Congress

In 2022, Democrats put the best face on a razor-thin loss in the House of Representatives by cheering the lack of a predicted “red wave” and forecasting dysfunction for a fractured GOP in the midst of bomb-throwers like Marjorie Taylor Greene and a nihilistic MAGA faction determined to sow chaos at the behest of their indicted leader in electoral exile.

The Democrats’ loss came down to just a few seats in New York, it was argued, including future disgraced and expelled member Republican George Santos’ seat in Queens and Long Island and new Republican member Mike Lawler in New York’s 17th Congressional District, who took the seat from Democrat Sean Maloney by just under 2000 votes.

While he wasn’t on the ballot in November 2022, once and possibly future Congressman Mondaire Jones was certainly on Democrats’ minds that Election Day.

In 2020, Jones rocketed to political stardom as one of two gay Black men—along with fellow New Yorker Ritchie Torres—elected to Congress that year when Democrats took control of the White House, the House, and the Senate for the first time since President Barack Obama’s first term.

Jones made a name for himself even before the election, suing the Trump administration and Postmaster General Louis DeJoy over tactics to slow down mail-in balloting. Jones won, and DeJoy—remarkably, still running the Postal Service—was forced to upgrade mail-in ballots to first-class delivery and reinstate overtime for postal workers dealing with a pandemic crush of vote-by-mail ballots.

With his reform-minded policies around voting and LGBTQ+ rights, health care, clean energy, and the Black Lives Matter movement, Jones was labeled a progressive star.

But in 2022, redistricting in New York forced a domino effect of electeds switching districts. Maloney announced for Jones’ original seat, and Jones ran to the south in Westchester, where he’d worked in the county executive’s office.

It didn’t work out so well.

Jones lost his primary to another popular Democrat, Trump impeachment manager Dan Goldman, and Maloney lost in the general to the GOP’s Lawler, the first Republican to win that seat since 1981.

Now Jones is running again in a redrawn 17th, which includes his hometown of Spring Valley on the Hudson River. He lives just over the Hudson in the village of Sleepy Hollow, famed for the Washington Irving story of a headless horseman riding through the night.

But like that iconic character’s impact on a sleepy village, outside forces have interfered around New York’s congressional districts — and Jones has decided to embrace it.

Two weeks ago, the onetime progressive star endorsed a colleague from his time in Westchester County, George Latimer, over “Squad” member Jamaal Bowman in the Democratic primary in New York’s 16th District, a provocative move that served as a proxy for Jones’ pro-Israel stand on the war in Gaza.

It has not been received well among former progressive colleagues in the House.

Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) called Jones’ decision to back his former colleague’s rival “horrific.” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) labeled the Latimer endorsement a “profound disappointment.” Both the Progressive Caucus and the Working Families Party dropped their endorsement of Jones, who is running unopposed for the Democratic nomination in his district.

But the Harvard Law graduate, 37, is unrepentant over what could be characterized as a Machiavellian stab in the back, or a smart appeal to his district’s Jewish voters — or both.

The candidate spoke from his home in Sleepy Hollow, not long after all hell broke loose.

“It’s been a great month for me,” he said laughing.

LGBTQ Nation: That’s what I hear. Let’s go back to your first days in office. You had just started on the job in Congress when MAGA rioters overtook the Capitol, leaving five dead and hundreds injured. That effort failed to keep Donald Trump in office, but now he’s the presumptive Republican nominee, and could take the White House again. What do you say to voters sick of the status quo who are flirting with Trump’s promise to just burn it all down?

Mondaire Jones: I would point them in the direction of what Democrats were able to accomplish last term when I was in Congress. Specifically, we capped the cost of prescription drugs for seniors on Medicare, and made the largest investment in clean renewable energy that any nation has ever taken.

As a freshman member of Congress, I was able to bring hundreds of millions of dollars to my district for schools, housing and healthcare, and I was not an exception. My other Democratic colleagues were able to do that at the height of the pandemic, and we also cut child poverty in half.

And the president, for his part, did the courageous thing in issuing an executive order to cancel student debt, and even after the far-right Republican majority on the Supreme Court struck that down, he has proceeded to cancel over $167 billion of it anyway.

So the Democrats’ values are strong and aligned with working-class people in this country, and it turns out that we are also the only party, and Joe Biden is the only presidential nominee, committed to restoring Roe v. Wade and protecting LGBTQ+ freedoms at a time of just renewed assault by the right-wing on the existence of LGBTQ+ people in this country.

In 2022, the current congressman from your district, Republican Michael Waller, beat the Democratic incumbent Sean Maloney by less than 2000 votes. What are you doing to pull those voters into your corner?

Well, this time around, I’m running in the district I always wanted to run in. That’s going to be a huge difference between me and the last cycle’s Democratic nominee. I am present in this district, and I will not be outspent by national dark money groups that aim to preserve the status quo and undermine democracy itself by reelecting Mike Lawler.

Two weeks ago, you waded into another race for Congress, as you alluded to earlier, endorsing George Latimer over progressive Jamaal Bowman in the Democratic primary in Westchester. That served as a proxy for your views on the war in Gaza. Why choose to endorse one Democrat over another?

Yeah, I endorsed progressive George Latimer over Jamaal Bowman a few weeks ago. Look, I’ve worked with George Latimer in the Westchester County Attorney’s Office, and know him to be enormously accomplished as the Westchester county executive and a serious policy maker who brings people together rather than fan the flames of division, which has been Mr. Bowman’s record.

Unfortunately, I have been particularly distraught over the way that he has responded to the events of October 7, the worst assault on Jews since the Holocaust — whether it was Mr. Bowman’s denial of the fact that Hamas committed sexual assault of Israeli women on October 7, or his recent endorsement by the Democratic Socialists of America, whose New York City Chapter amplified a pro-Hamas rally the day after October 7, or his recent reversal on items like Iron Dome funding and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. He has sown so much anxiety and fear and anger among my Jewish neighbors that it remains very important for me to stand up for them.

Your former and possibly future colleague Ritchie Torres, who you came into Congress with as one of the first two Black and gay representatives there, voices a similar, full-throated defense of Israel, and has also broken up with progressives as a result. Have you spoken with him about the war in Gaza?

Well, I want to say this. I don’t view myself to have been cast out of what has been described as the progressive movement in this country, but I do view myself to be at odds with an element of extremism that, if left unchecked, will hijack a movement in this country intended to secure basic freedoms for women and the LGBTQ+ community and expand healthcare opportunities for people here in America.

You know, the progressive movement has won a number of victories, when you look at the Inflation Reduction Act and the scale of the American Rescue Plan Act and President Biden’s cancelation of well over $160 billion in student debt. It is unfortunate that extreme individuals and organizations aim to apply litmus tests to people like me and Richie Torres on issues like Israel. I happen to think that it is progressive to be pro-Israel, and I’m standing by that.

New York is experiencing the first heat wave of the summer, and science says it’s exacerbated by climate change. What’s the single most important thing the world should do to address the climate crisis?

We have to take back the House so that we can build on the historic investments in climate action that I and my Democratic colleagues took last term when we passed the Inflation Reduction Act. That means defeating Mike Lawler here in the 17th District of New York.

Do you think compulsory national service in the military, the Peace Corps, or another form of public service would be a benefit to America’s youth country?

I aim to keep us out of unnecessary wars here in the United States. I do think that public service is critically important, and I want for every American to, in some shape or form, engage in that. It has been so enriching for our society, and I think can actually repair some of the damage that has been done as it concerns our social fabric in recent years.

You came out publicly when you were 24. Who knew you were gay before then and who didn’t?  

The first member of my family I told was my older sister, and there were some very close friends of mine who I shared that with in the months prior to coming out.

What inspired you to go public when you did?

You know, it was a culmination of factors. One was was seeing Black gay men represented in a show called Noah’s Ark, which was unlike anything I had seen growing up. That contributed to my coming out. It was also the progress that was being made in society. You know, seeing people be accepted in pop culture, like Frank Ocean and others, that helped give me the courage to live authentically.

You grew up a train ride away from New York City and went to college at Stanford 30 minutes by car from San Francisco, two of the biggest gay meccas in the country. How did that proximity and your time in those two cities shape your perspective on LGBTQ people and community?

I actually didn’t spend too much time in San Francisco, certainly not in the gay community in San Francisco. But in New York City, going to gay bars and clubs was really inspiring for me, because those were safe spaces to be who I am, and those experiences also contributed to the courage that I summoned coming out.

You’re a member of the First Baptist Church of Spring Valley where you grew up. How does your sexual orientation intersect with your religion?

I grew up in the church, where things have gotten a lot better, and it is far less taboo to be gay. But we’ve still got some progress we need to make in religious institutions, within the Black community and certainly outside of the Black community when you look at the white evangelical movement in this country.

I draw on the teachings of the Bible about subjects like loving one another and helping the disadvantaged in my public service life and in my personal life. Those teachings actually helped me to see more clearly how every human being has been made in the image of God and is worthy to be treated as such.

When you’re not working, which I imagine is rare during a busy campaign, what’s your social life like? Are you seeing anyone?

I am not seeing anyone, (laughing) but I’m certainly open to that.

I like to go out to dinner with my friends, and because I am often tired after a long day of campaigning, my social life mainly revolves around watching shows on streaming platforms like Hulu and Amazon Prime and Netflix.

What are you watching right now?

I am watching Interview with the Vampire, Season Two. It’s amazing.

It’s Pride Month. What makes you proud?

I am proud that this country and that my congressional district, to be more precise, elevated me from poverty all the way to the halls of Congress, where I was able to become the gay hero that I had always wanted growing up. Happy Pride.

Happy Pride.

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