POLITICS

Congressional Progressives Endorse Mondaire Jones In Hotly Contested New York Primary

Liberal activists see a chance for a more outspoken champion after Rep. Nita Lowey’s retirement.
If elected, attorney Mondaire Jones would be the first openly gay Black man in Congress.
If elected, attorney Mondaire Jones would be the first openly gay Black man in Congress.

The Congressional Progressive Caucus’ political action committee has endorsed attorney Mondaire Jones in the hotly contested Democratic primary for New York’s 17th Congressional District, a safe Democratic seat in the suburbs north of New York City.

The group’s blessing is a boost for Jones, who would be Congress’ first openly gay Black person if elected. He’s facing a crowded field of contenders to succeed Rep. Nita Lowey (D), who declared in October that she planned to retire after serving in Congress since 1989.

In a statement announcing Friday’s endorsement, Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), a co-chair of the progressive caucus, cited Jones’ upbringing as the son of a single mother who overcame childhood poverty to graduate from Harvard Law School.

“Especially during this crisis, we need more leaders like Mondaire in Congress who understand first-hand the economic struggles that so many Americans face,” Pocan said.

Jones, 32, is one of at least eight Democrats vying to succeed Lowey. He stands out in the field as the only one who entered the race as a primary challenger, hoping to unseat the powerful House Appropriations Committee chairwoman, before the 82-year-old lawmaker said she’d retire.

His status as an insurgent and his embrace of left-wing priorities ― like “Medicare for All,” a Green New Deal, tuition-free public college and student debt forgiveness ― have made him the progressive favorite in the race. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) endorsed him in January, and the Working Families Party, a force in New York, followed suit in February.

Although Jones touts those progressive credentials, he is also not shy about his stint as a corporate lawyer. He spent four years at Davis Polk & Wardwell, a Manhattan-headquartered megafirm, before taking a job with the Westchester County Law Department a few years ago.

The deck is stacked against everyday people because of the vast wealth and other resources corporations can command in service of their agenda. Mondaire Jones

Jones told HuffPost in an October interview that his legal work “helped me understand how corporations think” and how “the deck is stacked against everyday people because of the vast wealth and other resources corporations can command in service of their agenda.”

His best-funded opponents in the primary are Adam Schleifer, a former federal prosecutor and son of a pharmaceutical company founder, and Evelyn Farkas, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense under President Barack Obama.

Farkas has elicited scrutiny on the left for the donations she has received from prominent figures in the defense industry and national security establishment, including John Negroponte, a former ambassador to Iraq under President George W. Bush. 

She has taken a pledge not to accept donations from fossil fuel industry lobbyists. When HuffPost inquired about $2,000 that Farkas had received from Caroline Maury Devine, a board member of the oil giant ConocoPhillips, the campaign said it would return the money. Even though Devine is not technically a fossil-fuel lobbyist, the campaign concluded that accepting her support would violate the spirit of the pledge.

New York state Sen. David Carlucci is further behind in fundraising, but he enjoys high name recognition in a congressional district that includes his Rockland County legislative district. Carlucci was one of eight Democrats in the state Senate who aligned with Republicans until April 2018, effectively keeping that chamber in Republican hands despite Democrats’ numerical majority. Progressive challengers unseated six out of eight renegade Democrats in the 2018 Democratic primary, but Carlucci survived.

While progressive candidates who try to unseat incumbent Democrats in Congress garner more attention, the left has had far more success electing candidates in safe Democratic districts when the incumbent has died or retired. Freshman progressive Reps. Rashida Tlaib (Mich.), Ilhan Omar (Minn.) and Jesús “Chuy” Garcia (Ill.) all won open seats.

New York’s 17th District is such firmly Democratic territory that Lowey did not even face a Republican opponent in 2016 and 2018. But it is also a largely affluent, suburban district with one of the country’s largest populations of ultra-Orthodox Jewish Americans ― a community that sometimes skews more conservative ― and Jones’ candidacy will test progressives’ reach.

New York’s congressional primaries are scheduled to take place on June 23.

In light of social-distancing guidelines during the COVID-19 pandemic, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) issued an executive order enabling voters to cast absentee ballots without requiring a reason. The state is sending residents absentee ballot request forms by mail.

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