“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.”

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Natalie Shure is a Los Angeles-based writer and researcher whose work focuses on history, health, and politics.
Democratic Rep. Summer Lee, who at the time was a candidate for the state House, at a demonstration in Pittsburgh for Antwon Rose, who was killed by police, in 2018. Lee recently defeated her 2024 primary challenger.
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