Mondaire Jones Aims to Make History in Lower Hudson House Race

Mondaire Jones, an out gay hopeful in Tuesday's Democratic House primary New York's 17th District.
Facebook/ Mondaire Jones

Out gay congressional candidate Mondaire Jones, running for the seat being vacated by retiring Representative Nita Lowey in Northern Westchester and Rockland County, has attracted a robust base of support and recent polling shows him in strong position against a crowded field ahead of Tuesday’s June 23 Democratic primary showdown.

Jones, a 33-year-old Harvard Law School graduate who helped facilitate judicial nominations in the Obama administration’s Department of Justice, also worked in Westchester County’s Department and co-founded a non-profit organization.

He most recently earned the endorsement of the Human Rights Campaign, but he has also been endorsed by the LGBTQ Victory Fund and powerhouse lawmakers like Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, and Bronx and Queens Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. He has also landed support from The New York Times.

Out gay former Obama DOJ official navigates crowded Democratic congressional primary

LGBTQ lawmakers, too, have gravitated toward his campaign, such as Congressmembers David Cicilline of Rhode Island and Mark Pocan of Wisconsin. Interestingly, however, the Hudson Valley Stonewall Democrats shunned Jones, instead voting to endorse Assemblymember David Buchwald.

In response to a district resident who queried Stonewall on why the club endorsed Buchwald over Jones, its president Anthony Nicodemo wrote, “David Buchwald has a track record of supporting the LGBTQ community legislatively and in the community. The majority of our board, including myself voted to support Assemblyman Buchwald and he is deserving of our endorsement. That being said, we made a mistake not recognizing the historic nature of Mondaire Jones and his campaign to become the first openly gay African-American member of Congress. Our board believes Mondaire would be a tremendous leader in Washington and we value having an openly gay candidate in the race.”

If successful in the Democratic primary and subsequent general election, Jones would become the first out gay Black member of Congress. In a nearby congressional district, NY-15, Bronx City Councilmember Ritchie Torres is also vying to make history as the first out gay Afro-Latinx member of Congress. If Torres or Jones is elected, they would join out gay Hudson Valley Congressmember Sean Patrick Maloney as the only queer members of the state’s congressional delegation.

Jones is holding his own in a race against multiple opponents equipped with experience in local elected office, including Buchwald and State Senator David Carlucci, who is among the lingering lawmakers remaining from the now-defunct, GOP-aligned Independent Democratic Conference. More than a half-dozen candidates will be on the ballot in that race, including some who have since dropped out, like Catherine Parker, a member of the Westchester Board of Legislators who recently threw her support behind Jones.

According to Public Policy Polling’s mid-June poll of 1,141 likely Democratic primary voters, Jones is leading the field with 25 percent, followed by 14 percent for both former Assistant US Attorney Adam Schleifer and Evelyn Farkas, a former official in the Department of Defense, 11 percent for Carlucci, eight percent for Buchwald, three percent for Baruch College professor Asha Castleberry-Hernandez, and two percent for Allison Fine. However, nearly a quarter of those voters — 24 percent — said they were still not sure who would they vote for in the primary.

Notably, the poll consisted of 58 percent women and 42 percent men, and most respondents were at leasts 46 years old. Thirty-nine percent were between 46 and 65, 32 percent were older than 65, 18 percent were between 30 and 45, and 11 percent were 18 to 29. Sixty-seven percent of respondents were white, 14 percent were Black, 10 percent were Latinx, and eight percent were listed as “other.”

Jones is running on a left-leaning platform explicitly supporting Medicare for All, calling for student debt forgiveness of at least $10,000 per person, backing universal child care, endorsing the Green New Deal championed by Ocaso-Cortez, and boosting funding for public schools. On his campaign site, Jones also lists numerous police reform and criminal justice initiatives, including ending qualified immunity — which typically excuses individual officers and other government officials from personal civil liability — and “broken windows” policing, repealing the 1994 crime bill, legalizing marijuana, and reducing incarceration and abolishing private prisons and detention facilities.

Jones seeks to put a check on the military by calling for the repeal of the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force — which has given presidents wide latitude in the battle against terrorist groups around the globe — “urgently” ending existing conflicts, and banning sales of weapons to nations that violate human rights. He also wants to reduce military spending and reallocate that cash into the State Department to bolster diplomacy efforts, though he didn’t specify exactly how much money he would like to trim from the military.

Jones also says he would prioritize reproductive justice and queer rights. His campaign site does not say anything about the emerging movement to decriminalize sex work, but he said he would co-sponsor the Equality Act, fight for Medicare for All in part to help cover medical costs for PrEP, and push for housing affordability initiatives for queer youth in light of that demographic’s disproportionate rates of homelessness.

Heading into the race, Jones is behind his opponents in overall fundraising numbers. He has raised north of $1 million, but trails Schleifer and Farkas, according to Lohud.com. Schleifer, the son of Leonard Schleifer, the founder of pharma giant Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, has drawn criticism for his ownership of pharma stocks, including Regeneron, and he slid $250,000 of his own money into his war chest and loaned his campaign $3.7 million.

Regardless of fundraising or poll numbers, however, Jones and his opponents are bracing for an unprecedented election occurring in the midst of a coronavirus pandemic. Voters have been offered mail-in voting options, but it is not yet clear how much of an impact the pandemic will have on voter turnout. It is possible that it will take days for election results to flow in due to the significant amount of voters who are mailing in their ballots.

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