By Evan Peng
For Mondaire Jones ’09, “policy is personal.”
Last Tuesday, weeks after election day, the Associated Press called the Democratic primary race for New York’s 17th congressional district, declaring Jones the winner of the Democratic nomination.
“[This win] is vindication of all of the hard work that I have done to get to this place, to get to this point in my life,” Jones said in an interview with The Daily.
Because the district, which is located in the suburbs north of New York City, is safely Democratic, the 33-year-old is widely expected to win the general election in November.
If elected, Jones will be the first openly gay Black member of Congress — or, at least, among the first. Nearby, in New York’s 15th district, another Democratic stronghold, openly gay Afro-Latinx candidate Ritchie Torres also currently leading his primary.
While the election took place on June 23, the sheer volume of absentee votes resulting from the coronavirus outbreak caused the race to be left uncalled until this past Tuesday, July 14. Jones emerged as an early leader, with twice the number of votes as the second-place candidate. His lead has only grown with absentee ballots being counted, increasing to more than 2.5 times the number of votes.
Reflecting on Jones’ primary win, Micheal Brown ’22 noted the significance of the moment and what it represents.
“Mondaire Jones’ election is incredibly monumental because he will be one of the first openly gay Black men to serve in Congress,” Brown said. “His historic election has allowed for myself and others to feel truly represented in our government.”
“In a lot of ways, I see myself in him and I’m personally encouraged and inspired to continue my own journey,” he added.
To Blake Hord ’21, who lives in NY-17 and voted for Jones, the win is a reflection of society at large.
“It’s a huge step that he’s the first gay Black Congressperson, and I’m proud that that is coming from where I grew up. It’s a very good sign of changing political trends, and changing societal trends too,” Hord said.
“I think the entire district is very proud of him.”
Jones was born and raised by his single mother and her parents in the district that he is now running to represent in Washington.
He said his experiences, including “growing up in Section 8 housing and on food stamps, and accompanying my grandmother to work as she cleaned houses because daycare was too expensive,” were important ones to have in Congress.
“Those experiences urgently need to be represented in Congress, because we get better policy outcomes when we have more people in office for whom policy is personal,” he said.
Jones started college at Stanford in 2005, where he participated in student government. In his sophomore year, he served on theUndergraduate Senate as the Campus Advocacy Committee Chair. In his junior year, he served as ASSU Vice President.
If elected to Congress, Jones will be joining several Cardinal alumni on Capitol Hill, including Cory Booker ’91 M.A. ’92 (D-NJ) and Joaquin Castro ’96 (D-TX-20). Both Booker and Castro also participated in student government as senior class president and Associated Students of Stanford (ASSU) Undergraduate Senator, respectively.
Jones acknowledged the influence of his time in the ASSU on his campaign. He is particularly familiar with difficult campaigns, as his ASSU Executive slate won by just 38 votes.
“I remember falling asleep on couches in different dorms in between posting flyers up,” he said.
Brown, who is the current ASSU Undergraduate Senate Chair, echoed these sentiments, recognizing the groundwork that working in the ASSU might have laid for Jones.
“I can see how his experience in the ASSU may have brought him to the path that he’s on today,” said Brown.
“The experience of working as a student government representative parallels that of a Congressmember, especially in terms of the need to connect with and advocate for certain communities, learn how to navigate institutions, and to grow through various challenges,” he added.
After graduating from Stanford in 2009 with a bachelor’s degree in Political Science and a minor in African and African American Studies, Jones spent a year in the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Policy, where he worked on judicial appointments. From there, he went on to Harvard Law School, earning his J.D. in 2013.
Prior to his run for Congress, Jones moved back to the 17th district, where he worked as an attorney, both at the Westchester County Law Department and in private practice.
The winner of the November general election will succeed 16-term Congresswoman Nita Lowey, Chair of the House Appropriations Committee. Her retirement at the age of 83 opened the gates for a flood of Democratic candidates: in total, eight appeared on the ballot on election day.
Jones, who backs Medicare for All and a Green New Deal, emerged as the favorite of the left flank of the Democratic Party. In addition to endorsements from both Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY-14) and Ayanna Pressley (D-MA-7), he also garnered endorsements from Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro ’96, among others.
Hord cited Jones’ experience, policies, and the grassroots style of his campaign as factors he considered when voting. “A lot of my friends supported him on Instagram and spread the word more so than through large advertisements,” Hord said.
“[I] was personally reached out to by several peers, making sure that I could— or making sure that I was registered to vote, and trying to inform me of his policy proposals and stances on many issues.”
Like Hord, Brown is enthusiastic.
“I am very excited to see what Mondaire Jones and the other first-time Congress members do, and am hopeful for what that all means for our future,” he said.
The general election will take place on Nov. 3 of this year.