NEW YORK ― Soon after winning a crowded Democratic primary in Latest York City’s northern suburbs in 2020, Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.) rocketed to national prominence.
Cruising to general-election victory in Latest York’s heavily Democratic seventeenth Congressional District, Jones made history as one in all Congress’s first two openly gay Black men. He became the freshman representative to House Democratic leadership, a deputy whip for the Congressional Progressive Caucus and an outspoken voice on the Democratic Party’s left flank.
Jones, a former corporate lawyer raised by a single mother, also distinguished himself as a prolific fundraiser, founding a political motion committee with which to support other candidates.
But in May, a court-ordered redistricting threatened to upend Jones’ promising profession. His home was drawn into progressive Rep. Jamaal Bowman’s district to the South, and Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), the pinnacle of House Democrats’ campaign arm, announced plans to run for Jones’ seat without consulting him.
Following a round of public finger-pointing, Jones opted to run in Latest York’s entirely recent ― and unoccupied ― tenth Congressional District reasonably than tackle Maloney or Bowman.
The predominantly liberal seat comprises lower Manhattan and a cluster of contiguous neighborhoods in brownstone Brooklyn, including Carroll Gardens, where Jones moved earlier this month.
The district’s Aug. 23 Democratic primary has already elicited some 15 contenders, amongst them former Latest York Mayor Bill de Blasio, two Latest York State Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou and Latest York City Councilwoman Carlina Rivera.
HuffPost is running an interview series with the tenth District candidates. Try our previous interviews with Yuh-Line Niou, Bill de Blasio, and Carlina Rivera.
As a newcomer to the district, Jones faces charges of carpet-bagging and opportunism. But he also enjoys major benefits: the backing of high-ranking Democrats, recurring guest spots on MSNBC and a large war chest that has enabled him to beat rivals to the TV airwaves.
The morning after a late June night out with Latest York City Councilmen Chi Ossé and Eric Bottcher at Club Lambda in East Williamsburg, Jones sat down with HuffPost over coffee at a bagel spot in Carroll Gardens.
HuffPost asked Jones how he explains moving to a recent district to run, what he thinks has gone incorrect in President Joe Biden’s first two years and the way he approaches progressive lawmaking.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
“As progressivism comes under assault, we as a progressive movement still haven’t reached the extent of sophistication required to make the durable gains that we wish to see and that the American people broadly support.”
– Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.)
While you were running in Latest York’s seventeenth Congressional District, you talked rather a lot about your roots in Rockland County. Having moved to Latest York’s tenth recently, you can’t make the identical argument. How do you justify moving here to run?
There was no candidate in that race who had been serving in Congress and had already been a champion in a progressive way, and in a way that really delivered results for the communities that comprise the district. That may be a key difference between Latest York’s seventeenth Congressional District back in 2020 and Latest York’s tenth Congressional District today in 2022.
My fights to finish gun violence on this country, to construct a humane immigration policy and to lower the price of living for working families while stopping the climate crisis are usually not confined by the boundaries of 1 and even multiple congressional districts. The work that I’m doing has already been in great service to the people here in lower Manhattan and in Brooklyn.
I used to be the guy on the table negotiating passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, and the House version of the Construct Back Higher laws wouldn’t have passed without my work. (In fact, I did that with another colleagues who were on the table that day.)
As billions of dollars from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act come to Latest York State, we now need someone who’s going to be effective at getting as many hundreds of thousands of those dollars as possible for this district, having already brought billions to the state. That’s not something that’s only for Latest York’s seventeenth Congressional District ― whether it’s the Gateway tunnel project or the cash that I’m going to be fighting for to construct [climate] resiliency on the Lower East Side or on the Brooklyn side here.
That is stuff that I’m uniquely prepared to do and have experience doing. I actually have a track record of bringing money to congressional districts.
While you announced your plans to run here, you mentioned how critical the historic LGBTQ community in lower Manhattan was in shaping your identity as a gay man. Why did you progress to Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, then?
I like this community. And the reality is, there are several other communities that I considered living in. But this can be a place that feels particularly familial and intimate while having a whole lot of offerings by way of restaurants and a few nightlife. I recently went to this Korean barbecue place within the neighborhood with [former Democratic New York City Councilman] Carlos Menchaca that has karaoke. My go-to karaoke song is Nelly’s “Come and Take a Ride With Me.”
It’s also a particularly expensive district to live in, which affected my decision. As one in all the poorest members of Congress and one in all the younger members of Congress, I’m aware of the pain of housing insecurity and just general financial insecurity.
It appears like you may have the support of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). Are you able to confirm that?
Will we even need to invest about whether the speaker is viewing me as an incumbent? She’s now gone on the record to say that ― and that’s the approach being taken by the overwhelming majority of my colleagues. Obviously, aside from one who I am keen on.
You’re referring to Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-N.Y.), who endorsed Latest York City Councilwoman Carlina Rivera.
I don’t take it personally. Greater than most senior members of Congress, she’s been particularly complimentary of the work that I’ve been doing over the past 12 months and a half, and I proceed to view her as a mentor and as a friend. And that endorsement of Carlina was made under tremendous pressure.
Within the temporary period if you were deciding whether to run against Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney in Latest York’s seventeenth, or to run elsewhere, were there Democratic Party leaders who offered assurances of support should you selected to run in the brand new, open seat?
Not a single House member I spoke to over that period. I didn’t know what the ultimate map was going to seem like. After I announced, there have been individuals who told me that they’d be on our side and to allow them to know what I want.
I didn’t tell Sean [Patrick Maloney]. Sean didn’t know I used to be going to be running within the tenth District until after I announced ― contrary to what people have assumed. I did give a heads as much as Nydia [Velázquez] that Friday ― that if the maps we had seen earlier held, that that is what I can be doing.
Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.), second from left, and Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), center, within the U.S. Capitol. Maloney decided to run in Jones’ old seat.
Tom Williams/Getty Images
Did you concentrate on running against Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) in Latest York’s sixteenth Congressional District?
There are all these conversations about residency. My residence was drawn into the district that Jamaal Bowman had announced in. That doesn’t appear to matter to people who find themselves saying you must run where you reside.
They desired to see this ideological battle. But there was just no way I used to be going to run against Jamaal ― a fellow Black progressive and my friend?
Did anybody within the House Democratic Caucus say, “It’d be nice should you went over there and knifed Rep. Bowman”?
I wasn’t going to do it. There have been individuals who wanted me to, but I wasn’t going to do it.
There are influential pro-Israel Democrats who know your overall views are very near Jamaal Bowman’s but who see you as more palatable relating to U.S.-Israel policy and wanted you to run for that reason. Where do you stand on U.S.-Israel policy? Do you think that that the U.S. should put any tighter conditions on aid to Israel or find one other strategy to meaningfully back up U.S. criticisms of Israeli policies?
Can I zoom out? It’s not nearly Israel ― and it’s not about Jamaal.
People recognize each throughout the progressive movement and out of doors of it that I’m uniquely good at constructing coalitions that reach far outside of the progressive movement. And that’s required in American politics ― actually throughout the Democratic Party.
As progressivism comes under assault, we as a progressive movement still haven’t reached the extent of sophistication required to make the durable gains that we wish to see and that the American people broadly support. That’s because you continue to have too many individuals who don’t care concerning the implications of the ways by which they discuss things and who don’t recognize the vital work that progressives and Democratic leadership ― who they might disagree with on one or two things ― have otherwise been doing for the movement.
I take a look at what’s happening immediately in my race. I’m a number one progressive member of Congress ― not only a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, but a number one progressive member of Congress. Progressives ought to be coalescing around my candidacy as one in all my opponents [former federal prosecutor Daniel Goldman] prepares to spend many hundreds of thousands of dollars on this primary.
We’ve seen that coalescing, nationally, but unfortunately there have been some groups in Latest York who are usually not there yet. And it’s devastating for the progressive movement.
“Manchin doesn’t give a shit.”
– Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.)
Is there an example of a selected issue, or a selected person or a selected rhetorical phrase that, in your opinion, progressives have employed that hurts greater than it helps?
You’ve got leaders of the [Working Families Party] saying “defund the police” was not one of the best phrase to articulate a vision for learn how to move toward humane, more practical policing that doesn’t brutalize Black and brown communities while still keeping them secure.
Was Eric Adams’ election as mayor of Latest York City a repudiation of the ethos embodied by that slogan?
My progressive brothers and sisters have to comprehend that as progressive as Black and brown communities are on social and economic policy, these communities are also very concerned about crime. I say this as a Black American whose family in Latest York City largely voted for Adams. (My father lives in Washington Heights. You’d never realize it from what my competitors say about me.)
We can’t be dismissive. Eight people were wounded and one person died last night in a shooting in Harlem.
What doesn’t being dismissive of crime mean in practice?
It means obviously taking a look at the social determinants of crime and addressing that. And, in fact, ensuring that we’re policing in a wise way in order that, for instance, rank-and-file members of the NYPD are usually not being dispatched to defuse mental health crises which are nonviolent in nature.
But I’m not going to inform the NYPD what number of cops to place in a specific neighborhood. And I feel we’ve got to watch out about that.
How do you think that Mayor Adams is doing overall?
It stays to be seen. Mr. de Blasio has such a record of failure relating to crime and the housing affordability crisis and the humanitarian crisis at Rikers [Island] that it could be unfair to expect Mayor Adams to unravel all these problems in his first six months on the job.
I used to be disillusioned to see the cuts to public education within the Latest York City Council budget recently. I actually have helped bring billions of dollars to town through the American Rescue Plan and more recently through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
I’m pissed that in that environment we’d still be cutting our academic budget. I do know parents in Carroll Gardens are pissed ― and oldsters around Latest York’s tenth Congressional District, for that matter.
You mentioned Construct Back Higher. The arc of that bill was interesting. Yes, you helped hammer it out within the House, however it went nowhere since the Senate has not acted on it. What went incorrect?
It can be crucial to recall what the dynamics were on the time that we reached an agreement to vote on the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act in November.
We were never going to carry out on passage of Construct Back Higher until such time because the Senate passed Construct Back Higher. The query on the night that we hammered out that agreement was whether we could count on the House to pass Construct Back Higher, which I used to be capable of secure through an agreement that the conservative Democratic holdouts adhered to 2 weeks later.
If we had held out [for the Senate to pass Build Back Better], we’d have been waiting for months. And admittedly, Construct Back Higher wouldn’t ever have passed the Senate. Nobody expected that we had the flexibility to do this.
Jones confers with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) at a student debt cancellation event. Jones is closer to Democratic leaders than another progressives.
Andrew Harnik/Associated Press
Should progressives have held the road, though? Ultimately you voted for the bipartisan infrastructure bill, unlike a handful of your progressive colleagues who voted no because they desired to hold out for leverage over the Senate.
I don’t wish to characterize why six of my colleagues voted no. I’ll allow them to describe why they did that.
But when we had not voted to pass the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act that night ― through a negotiated agreement that also required passage of Construct Back Higher two weeks later within the House ― we’d not have gotten either of those two bills.
So, in your opinion, was there so little leverage over the Senate Democratic holdouts because essentially the most conservative Democrats would reasonably do nothing in any respect in the event that they couldn’t get progressives on board for the infrastructure bill?
[Sen. Joe] Manchin [D-W.Va.] doesn’t give a shit. That is someone who didn’t even give the White House a heads up before he went on Fox News in December to say he wasn’t going to vote for any version of Construct Back Higher ― not least the version that he had negotiated already with the White House and with congressional leaders. That is someone who really doesn’t give a shit concerning the American people.
The concept that we could have continued after what happened in [the] Virginia [elections] and the way in which that the media and the bottom of the party had turned against [progressives’] strategy, I feel was untenable.
And, in fact, we got what we wanted. We passed Construct Back Higher through the House. Now it’s on the Senate and the White House, who promised us that Construct Back Higher would pass.
Have you ever been disillusioned within the leadership that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has provided by way of getting a spending bill passed within the Senate?
Majority Leader Schumer has been an incredible leader within the Senate. He’s within the unattainable situation of getting to corral votes from individuals who are usually not real Democrats, mainly Kyrsten Sinema [Ariz.] and Joe Manchin, to say nothing of a couple of other Democrats in his caucus who are not looking for to do away with the filibuster for matters that don’t include voting rights.
What I’m hearing from you is that the shortage of progress on this Congress in Biden’s first two years was inevitable given the slim margins that Democrats have.
No. I feel that the White House should never have allowed Construct Back Higher to be separated from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. Those bills must have run on parallel tracks. The White House must have come out early on in support of filibuster reform, to pass voting rights and other laws. That’s broadly popular and of existential importance.
“If the president is capable of do his job effectively within the second term, then he should be happy to run for reelection.”
– Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.)
You’re thinking that that might have swayed Sinema and Manchin?
I feel it could have. The White House must have been, from the outset, punishing Sinema and Manchin for his or her betrayal of the American people and of the Democratic Party. And as an alternative what we saw were two people within the Senate Democratic Caucus who became emboldened by what they view as a White House that was not going to carry them to account.
Certainly one of your opponents, former Latest York Mayor Bill de Blasio, told me he applauds Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) for his bipartisan gun reform bill and suggested that he’s the type of progressive that may be enthusiastic about cutting those types of deals. Isn’t that skill to have if Democrats are going to be within the minority?
I actually have said publicly on quite a few occasions that I’m willing to pass laws that doesn’t go nearly so far as I would really like, at the same time as I fight for more ambitious policies.
Because it concerns Murphy’s bill, I’ve not seen legislative text yet. And for that reason, I actually have been noncommittal, given a few of the concerns that I actually have.
That is the issue, by the way in which, when the middle of gravity is in america Senate relating to negotiating passage of filibuster-proof laws. You get a bipartisan group of eight people who find themselves negotiating something that they simply expect the House to pass? It undermines the prerogative of the People’s House.
By the way in which, Mr. de Blasio doesn’t have a record of much accomplishment in his time as an executive where he didn’t must make the type of compromises that he’s now purporting to be wanting to make.
Specifically, do you think that that de Blasio’s handling of policing in town was a disappointment?
Mr. de Blasio exacerbated the crisis at Rikers, failed Black and brown communities and Latest Yorkers writ large when it got here to policing in town, didn’t construct reasonably priced housing in a way that was meaningful for hundreds of thousands of individuals experiencing housing insecurity in town, and by some means did make time to go to the YMCA to work out while he must have been doing his job.
Do you may have any thoughts on any of the opposite candidates?
As I see it, the more the merrier. Our democracy advantages from people participating. That implies that if a few of the debates turn to a discussion of Ms. [Elizabeth] Holtzman standing as much as [then-President] Richard Nixon, then I’m able to have that conversation.
Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou could make an argument that she is more progressive than you because she has been more willing to arise to Democratic Party leaders.
The opposite candidates could have to make their case to the voters. I’ll say that being a serious legislator in Congress ― as I’m, and as none of my opponents dispute on this race ― requires a concentrate on the job and getting results far lower than a concentrate on being on Twitter all day. And that’s not a selected criticism of anybody candidate.
Jones embraces Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) during her August 2021 sit-in demanding an extension of the federal eviction moratorium.
Amanda Andrade-Rhoades/Associated Press
Speaking of which, you appear to me to be a bit different than the “Squad” in that you may have a less publicly antagonistic relationship with Speaker Pelosi and Leader Schumer. What would you say to that?
I’ve never viewed myself in relation to the “Squad” or every other cohort of individuals within the Congress. I’ve all the time just been a number one progressive figure throughout the broader House Democratic Caucus who, yes, is the youngest member of House Democratic leadership but who has taken leadership to the mat in private conversations. I actually have also spoken up publicly relating to wanting to increase the CDC’s eviction moratorium, to insisting on introducing my Supreme Court expansion bill with [Reps.] Jerry Nadler [D-N.Y.] and Hank Johnson [D-Ga.], to talking about changes to the filibuster and expanding the court, even when folks would have preferred that we just discuss making nice with Republicans.
Do you think that President Biden should run for reelection?
If the president is capable of do his job effectively within the second term, then he should be happy to run for reelection.
But it surely occurs to me that a few of the things that you just’re talking about, like laying out a transparent vision, that’s a matter of a president’s wherewithal relating to communications and strategy. Does Biden have that?
To be more precise, I feel it’s about an ideology. I don’t think it’s a secret that the president has been a staunch defender of the filibuster. I used to be the primary person within the House to call for abolishing the filibuster to pass voting rights laws.
You wish the Democratic Party to actually be proactive and to take the fight to the opposite team. But Democrats are going to be within the minority in the subsequent Congress, so …
I don’t accept that. Anything can occur between now and November. And while the time to course-correct is fleeting, it just isn’t out of the realm of possibility that Democrats will hold the House this fall. It’s actually of existential importance that we achieve this once we consider whether we’ll have a democracy.
We’ve got a good higher probability of keeping the Senate ― and picking up seats in places like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, North Carolina ― perhaps Florida. If anyone can beat Marco Rubio, it’s [Democratic Rep.] Val Demings.
“While you begin to discuss conditioning [U.S.] aid [to Israel], the conversation and buy-in that you should get with the intention to have a two-state solution just shuts down.”
– Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.)
I don’t think that many other Latest York Democrats share your assessment. Rep. Antonio Delgado (D-N.Y.) accepted an appointment as lieutenant governor of Latest York. That seat is probably going gone for Democrats. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.) obviously had concerns about where the House was headed. It looks like persons are fleeing a sinking ship ― even fighting for seats on the lifeboats. But you’re still confident that Democrats can keep the House?
Those things were happening within the present-day environment. The Supreme Court goes to overturn Roe v. Wade in a few weeks. That may very well be a game changer by way of motivating the American people to come back out this fall and vote for Democrats, who’re the one folks attempting to protect fundamental rights on this country.
Back to an earlier query: Do you prefer putting more teeth behind U.S. policy toward Israel? And by that I mean should there actually be consequences when the U.S. disapproves of things like settlement growth?
But I feel if you begin to discuss conditioning aid, the conversation and buy-in that you should get with the intention to have a two-state solution just shuts down. One side just stops listening to you altogether.
It’s also the case that [U.S.-funded] Iron Dome technology, for instance, prevents an escalation in violence because otherwise you’d see the Israeli government responding with rather a lot more force. I visited an Iron Dome site within the Israeli town of Sderot right outside Gaza.
Are you planning to appeal to the Hasidic Jewish community in Borough Park? I do know you’ve represented similar communities in Rockland County.
Monsey, Latest Square, Kaser ― I represent all those communities immediately. I’m proud to have one of the best constituent services that you just would ask for from any member of Congress. The parents that represent those communities will inform you that they’ve never had a member of Congress who has provided the extent of constituent services which are provided relating to issues related to immigration, passports and otherwise.
So that you’re making a play for the Borough Park vote?
I’m leaving no stone unturned. My vision for representation in Congress is getting votes from, and representing, all communities.