Mondaire Jones Rides Insurgent Wave to a House Primary Win in N.Y.

Mondaire Jones, a progressive candidate supported by the institutional left, was declared the victor in a crowded Democratic House primary in the suburbs north of New York City, all but ensuring that he will join Congress next year as among its first openly gay African-American members.

The race was not called by The Associated Press until Tuesday, three weeks after the primary, even though Mr. Jones had a commanding advantage after the machine ballot count: He had twice as many votes as his closest competitor, Adam Schleifer.

Mr. Jones’s support grew as Primary Day drew closer, as Black Lives Matters protests galvanized voters across the district and allowed candidates, for the first time since the pandemic, to campaign in the open air.

As the leading candidate of color in the race, and as the candidate with the most backing from national progressive leaders, Mr. Jones was well-positioned to capitalize on a renewed interest in civil rights and criminal justice reform.

The seat he is likely to fill is now occupied by Nita Lowey, the first woman to chair the House Appropriations Committee. Ms. Lowey, 83, was facing a primary from Mr. Jones when, in October, she announced her impending retirement.

Ms. Lowey’s resignation announcement opened the floodgates to would-be successors eager for the once-in-three-decade opportunity to fill an open seat in a secure Democratic district. She had declined to endorse a candidate in the race to succeed her.

Mr. Jones, 33, often says that “policy is personal,” and his personal story played an integral role in his campaign. In television ads and campaign literature, he recounted his grandparents’ migration north from the Jim Crow South, his upbringing in Section 8 housing in Rockland County and the family’s reliance on food stamps. He has relished his success against competitors from more privileged backgrounds.

“These are people who come from money, obviously,” Mr. Jones said. “Unlike them, I don’t come from money or from a political family. And yet, they underestimated me. We have outmaneuvered them at every stage of this campaign.”

Mr. Jones graduated from Stanford University and Harvard Law School, where he said he became good friends with James Comey’s daughter, Maurene (whose mother, Patrice, contributed to his campaign).

He returned to the district in 2017. Before running for Congress, he worked as an attorney at the Westchester County Law Department and in private practice. Mr. Jones also spent a year working as a fellow at the Department of Justice, where he helped vet judicial nominees that Senate Republicans would often block.

He often says that the latter experience seeded his distaste for political centrism in the face of Republican intransigence.

Mr. Jones quickly emerged as the candidate of the Democratic Party’s progressive wing, winning the backing of Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, as well as Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, all of whom cited his support for policies that they said would benefit working families.

Like many of his competitors, Mr. Jones supports elevating the national minimum wage to $15 an hour and indexing it to inflation. He also backs the creation of a single-payer health care system — joining some of his competitors in support of a robust public option en route to such a system.

He supports implementing Green New Deal policies to make the country more reliant on clean energy and repealing a federal law that bars New Yorkers from deducting their hefty state and local taxes from federal taxes. He favors creating more mass transportation options for Rockland County, which has only limited access to rail.

Mr. Jones won the race even though Mr. Schleifer, a pharmaceutical heir, outspent him by more than five to one. Mr. Jones did however benefit from some independent expenditures on his behalf, including by the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

An avowed science fiction fan, Mr. Jones, who had never run for office before, said the trajectory of this race feels oddly familiar.

“Running in this Democratic primary has felt like a story out of a sci-fi novel,” he said.

Which sci-fi novel?

“One that is still being written,” he said.


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