“I Have to Give Credit to AOC”: Mondaire Jones on the Inspiration Behind His Historic Left Challenge

Natalie Shure

Timothy A. Clary/AFP via Getty Images

In the sum­mer of 2019, Mondaire Jones — a 32-year-old Oba­ma-era Jus­tice Depart­ment employ­ee — launched his long-shot pri­ma­ry cam­paign as a chal­lenge to pow­er­ful, long-time Rep. Nita Lowey. It’s a deci­sion he large­ly ascribes to his soon-to-be col­league, Rep. Alexan­dria Oca­sio-Cortez (D‑N.Y.).

I have to give cred­it to AOC, because she real­ly extend­ed my imag­i­na­tion of what a young per­son of col­or could do in New York state pol­i­tics,” Jones says. I do not believe I would have chal­lenged the pow­er­ful chair of the House Appro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee, absent her exam­ple from 2018.” Not long into his cam­paign, though, the con­tours of the elec­tion in New York’s 17th Dis­trict changed dra­mat­i­cal­ly: In Octo­ber, Lowey announced her immi­nent retire­ment, prompt­ing oth­er hope­fuls to swell the field into an eight-per­son race.

Jones was the most pro­gres­sive can­di­date in the hot­ly con­test­ed elec­tion, run­ning on Medicare for All, bold cli­mate action and demo­c­ra­t­ic reform pro­pos­als, like abol­ish­ing the fil­i­buster and expand­ing the courts — mea­sures, Jones says, that are vital to mak­ing pro­gres­sive demands a real­i­ty. Jones reem­pha­sized these pro­pos­als in a blog post pub­lished after the death of Jus­tice Ruth Bad­er Ginsburg.

Along with new­ly elect­ed Ritchie Tor­res (D‑N.Y.), Jones is poised to become one of the first two open­ly gay Black con­gress­peo­ple in his­to­ry. And after tire­less cam­paign­ing, Jones’ plat­form gained trac­tion in the upscale sub­ur­ban com­mu­ni­ties that make up his dis­trict, one of the wealth­i­est in the country.

More and more, Jones began dis­tin­guish­ing him­self from the rest of the pool, which includ­ed a for­mer nation­al secu­ri­ty advis­er to Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma and a self-fund­ed pros­e­cu­tor awash in cor­po­rate mon­ey, which Jones refused to accept. By June, Jones attract­ed a wide range of endorse­ments, includ­ing Sens. Bernie Sanders (I‑Vt.) and Eliz­a­beth War­ren (D‑Mass.). Cru­cial­ly, Jones helped inspire the Con­gres­sion­al Pro­gres­sive Cau­cus to throw its weight around in the form of a $100,000 expen­di­ture for his cam­paign, a move that could sig­nal a will­ing­ness on its part to play the kind of polit­i­cal hard­ball the cau­cus has shied away from in the past. Jones cer­tain­ly hopes so.

Jones cer­tain­ly hopes so. In 2021, lever­age looks like the Con­gres­sion­al Pro­gres­sive Cau­cus with­hold­ing its sup­port for leg­is­la­tion until it becomes bet­ter for the Amer­i­can peo­ple,” Jones says. It means orga­niz­ing Amer­i­cans all across the coun­try to hold their elect­ed offi­cials account­able if they don’t sup­port a Green New Deal, which is the only cli­mate pol­i­cy that would save the plan­et from catastrophe.”

As a 501©3 non­prof­it pub­li­ca­tion, In These Times does not oppose or endorse can­di­dates for polit­i­cal office.

Natal­ie Shure is a Los Ange­les-based writer and researcher whose work focus­es on his­to­ry, health, and politics.
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