In this column I will be interviewing different politicians that represent Rye Brook. I will be asking each politician many of the same questions. I hope that these interviews will help you learn about the people who represent us in government. For this interview, I spoke with Mondaire Jones, Congressperson for the 17th District of New York.
Prior to being elected to Congress, Jones worked in the U.S. Department of Justice during Barack Obama’s presidency. Jones won in November with 59% of the vote, and is part of the 117th Congress. I first met Mondaire as I was a fellow on his campaign last summer and fall. I learned first hand about his policies and how he will work hard to support Rye Brook in Washington D.C. Below are excerpts from our 30 minute interview which took place in mid- March, 2021.
What or who inspired you to get involved with politics?
“As a freshman at Spring Valley High School in the East Ramapo Central School DIstrict I saw how difficult it was to pass a public school budget. I said I got to do something about this, so, working with people my age, I reactivated a defunct Spring Valley NAACP Youth Council, and grew its membership to over 100 people. We registered people to vote and did a lot of GOTV efforts. That involvement in the NAACP and attending their conventions really deepened my understanding of social justice and got me inspired to eventually run for something. I will say that for most of my life I did not think I myself would be running for any elected office. I didn’t think people would accept me as an openly gay candidate. Only within the last few years did I change my opinion on that. When I decided to announce my campaign in July of 2019, I saw a great need in our Congressional district, and in this country, and I felt I could do the best job.”
Did you work on any political figures’ campaigns prior to running for elected office?
“I did some volunteer work on the Obama campaign in 2008, and worked in the Obama Administration at the Justice Department before going to law school. I worked on policy issues, where I was surrounded by lawyers, public servants, who clarified for me that applying to law school was the right path. And then going on to be a Civil Rights Attorney, which I still do on a pro-bono basis. The person who most inspired me was Thurgood Marshall and his work winning justice in the courts, I thought I had the skills and passion to do that.
What is your favorite part of the job?
“My favorite part of this job is getting to deliver results for the people of Westchester and Rockland County. We just passed the most significant economic legislation for working people and families in modern American history, the American Rescue Plan. We will be cutting child poverty in half through this bill in the form of an expanded refundable tax credit. In the case of New York State, the bill provides approximately 23 billion dollars in direct aid to the state and local municipalities like Westchester and Rockland County. If we in Congress had not done that, arguably New York State would be cutting more essential services and of course money is fungible and so that would have been deeper cuts for our school districts and so on and so forth, staff layoffs and all those things, and so this is this is really ambitious stuff that we were able to pass. It obviously did not include the $15 minimum wage, I’m going to be fighting for that still, you got to do that in order to continue to lift people out of poverty in this country.”
What Surprised You The Most About The Job?
“This is unsurprisingly related to the events of January 6, the extent to which I would be serving with people who are hostile to democracy and the safety of their colleagues, including myself. I’m talking about people who pose grave danger to the United States and members of Congress.”
Was it surprising to see that Congresspeople were ok with the events at the Capitol on January 6th?
“Anyone who voted after the events of January 6th, that insurrection that I lived through, anyone who still voted later that evening to overturn the Presidential election from November, affirmed that they agreed with that violent insurrection earlier that day. Because that violent insurrection began as a big lie, the myth of mass voter fraud, that somehow the Presidential election was stolen from Donald Trump. That ideology incited that violent insurrection, so for two-thirds of House Republicans to vote, even after what they themselves had lived through, to overturn the election, I think it really speaks to the fact that they agreed with the violence we experienced. I would submit that any person who objected to the certification of the Presidency bears some responsibility.”
Advice For Future Public Servants
“I am able to be in this office in the United States Capitol because young people like you who took a chance on me, rallied behind a progressive champion for the things that matter to them. There were hundreds of young people, high school and college students from New York’s 17th Congressional district, and even nationally, who got on their phones and made hundreds of thousands of calls for me, sent hundreds of thousands of text messages for me, convinced and debated with their parents with respect to who to vote for in the primary and general election. Who created original content for social media, served as policy and strategic advisors, this is all direct evidence that young people can make a material difference in our politics. I am now one of the most progressive members of the House, and I am really proud to be speaking out on issues like the need for student debt relief, Medicare for All, and a Green New Deal. Of course I began my career in politics as a young person and by Congressional standards I am still quite young. So look to me to see that you can make a difference, join a campaign, regardless if it’s mine or someone else’s, just do what you can to make a difference.”
Future Goal and Aspirations
“My overriding goal is to be able to continue to get results for people in our Congressional district. That means in addition to passing the American Rescue Plan, which has been signed into law, passing the SALT Deductible Act, which would fully restore the state and local tax deduction in our district. 45% of the people in our district saw their taxes go up after that was capped by Donald Trump at $10,000. And we are reintroducing the Medicare for All act in the House. And I think continuing to involve and mentor young people, it’s not just about me, it’s about ushering in a new generation of leadership that will act with urgency and who don’t need to be convinced of bold action on Climate, Healthcare, Student Debt, and LGBTQ equality and racial justice.”
Anything else you would like to share with the readers at Blind Brook?
“I’m so proud of all of you for being contributing members of our community and driving my agenda at the federal level. I so value the opinions of high school students, including Blind Brook, in terms of how they’re feeling about my job performance, and what they need and what they want to see addressed by their government.”