The Gambit That (Probably) Failed
The Hubris of Mondaire Jones
Consider this all bunk if Mondaire Jones, sitting congressman, wins the NY-10 primary on Tuesday. Readers already know I was wrong about the New York Times and Dan Goldman. I believed, wrongly, Goldman’s self-funding would keep him from nabbing the Times endorsement. I thought the newspaper would not pick him because he is a white man challenging a field of nonwhite and female candidates. Wrong! The Times likes the millionaire ex-prosecutor. There’s some controversy about that, naturally.
What wouldn’t surprise me, though, is Goldman winning and Jones not winning. If current polling is to be believed, Jones may not even come in second or third. Both Yuh-Line Niou, a Manhattan assemblywoman backed by the Working Families Party and feted by online progressives, and Carlina Rivera, a Manhattan city councilwoman running with the support of 1199 SEIU and Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez, appear to be pulling ahead of Jones. Each woman, completely ignored by the Times, has a natural base in the race and a clear rationale for running. They have roots in the district and they have built intriguing local coalitions. Goldman is heavily outspending both, but you never know.
Contrast that with Jones, who has almost no support from any local officials or organizations beyond the union RWDSU and the Grand Street Democrats. This doesn’t surprise me much, but it’s definitely a surprise to Jones. After this spring’s redistricting chaos, Jones made the decision to leave his White Plains home, where he was a congressman and where he had grown up, and move to Brooklyn to run in the new, open 10th District. Jones did this because he didn’t like the idea of taking on Sean Patrick Maloney, the head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, in a one-on-one primary. He apparently was fine with running against Jamaal Bowman, a fellow progressive, but the polling didn’t look good there. So he went south, to Carroll Gardens, and rented an apartment.
Jones’ gambit was simple: he had no rationale for moving to Brooklyn other than to continue a political career, but it wouldn’t matter. He was popular, with a large social media following, and he had threaded a line between the Squad left—he backed Medicare for All—and the establishment middle because he curried favor with Nancy Pelosi. Jones, people told me, was sure he’d have the support of the Working Families Party, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the Times editorial board, and perhaps Nydia Velázquez. Other local pols would follow because he had already banked several million. He could run TV ads all summer. If reporters wanted to ask pesky questions about how he moved far outside of his district, he could avoid them altogether. He was a sitting congressman, and a rose garden strategy didn’t seem like the worst idea. If pressed, he could say something about how he was gay and he was excited to represent Greenwich Village and Stonewall. Sure, it was a line maybe 30 years too stale—gay men live all over New York City now, and have for some time—but it sounded nice.
Jones, a one-term congressman, appeared to make the mistake of assuming he was better known in New York City than he really was—and that he could, with TV money, make up the difference. Goldman has been all over TV too and has lived in Tribeca for a bit. It is not apparent Jones had the time or put in the effort to build local coalitions that could have vaulted him to the front of the pack. The move to Brooklyn was an interesting mix of cowardice and hubris. Cowardice, because he shied away from Maloney, where the more compelling fight would be. And hubris, because you don’t waltz into New York City from another district and expect to top a crowded field of locals.
Imagine another reality where Jones just stayed put in Rockland and ran against Maloney, a centrist who has long alienated members of his own party. If Jones was afraid of rankling D.C. Democrats, he could have at least been a hero to progressives. He had won big in his first race in 2020 and had a chance, with enough effort, to beat Maloney on turf where he was actually well-known. A defeat would probably set Jones up for something else down the road. He would be remembered as the courageous congressman who took on a well-funded corporatist. Activists would revere him. Or, even better, he could have actually defeated Maloney. Jones is an impressive politician. He is a genuinely captivating presence.
Now, he finds himself playing catch-up against Goldman, Niou, and Rivera. A victory on Tuesday would be an upset, a surprise. Jones may know something we don’t. Or, come Wednesday morning, he’ll have to decide whether to break the lease on his Carroll Gardens apartment and head back north. It is pretty up there in the fall.