DCCC Chair and Rep. Mondaire Jones Flee Blue Districts, a Bright-Red Warning for Democrats

A court-ordered redistricting process nearly pitted Squad member Jamaal Bowman against progressive Jones, but Jones instead is targeting a new open seat in New York City.

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, D-N.Y., speaks during the House Democrats news conference in the Capitol on Tuesday, February 8, 2022. (Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images).
Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, D-N.Y., speaks during the House Democrats news conference in the Capitol on Feb. 8, 2022. Photo: Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call via Getty Images

Rep. Mondaire Jones ended a week of redistricting turmoil in the New York state delegation early Saturday morning with an announcement. Bullied by Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney out of his own slightly redrawn congressional district — the 17th, which covers Westchester and the lower Hudson Valley — Jones decided instead to run in the newly created 10th District, which covers parts of Manhattan and Brooklyn.

That decision sidesteps a primary against Rep. Jamaal Bowman, which Jones had been eyeing seriously and even polled last week. But it also sets up a contest for Jones in a district he’s never represented against former Mayor Bill de Blasio and a potential run from Assembly Member Yuh-Line Niou, who told The Intercept she’s exploring the possibility.

Jones leaned into his status as the first queer Black member of Congress. “I have decided to run for another term in Congress in #NY10,” he said. “This is the birthplace of the LGBTQ+ rights movement. Since long before the Stonewall Uprising, queer people of color have sought refuge within its borders.”


Underneath the district shuffling and refuge seeking is a dire warning for Democrats: Maloney is the chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. His entire job is to make sure that Democrats hold their narrow House majority or else the Biden legislative agenda will be completely dead. When the new lines were released, Maloney’s district became one that Joe Biden had carried by 8 percentage points. Jumping into Jones’s district gave him just an extra 2-point advantage. The DCCC chair signaling nervousness about his own district is less than confidence inspiring.

Equally concerning, perhaps, was Jones’s reaction. The freshman member of Congress told allies that he wasn’t necessarily concerned about losing a primary to Maloney, as Jones is popular in the district with primary voters and would have had the full support of the party’s progressive wing. But his polling, he told multiple people late in the week, showed him narrowly trailing in the general election in what is shaping up to be a brutal election year. “That’s his concern, but we’re screwed if we lose Biden plus-10 seats,” said one Democratic member of Congress who spoke to Jones.

On Monday, after a New York judge threw out the congressional map drawn by the state legislature, a court-appointed special master released the preliminary outline of a new map. All hell broke loose.

Maloney was the first to storm out of those gates, announcing not long after the map was released that he’d be leaving his own district and running instead in the one represented by Jones.

Maloney’s move may be the most brazenly selfish district hop in American political history. That’s not said lightly, given that Maloney is operating in an industry — politics — that is populated almost exclusively by some of the most craven, attention-seeking people in our society.

Jones did not appreciate it. “Sean Patrick Maloney did not even give me a heads up before he went on Twitter to make that announcement. And I think that tells you everything you need know about Sean Patrick Maloney,” he said.

Maloney’s district, which hugs the Hudson north of New York City, was slightly redrawn but still leans Democratic by at least 8 points and includes about three quarters of the 18th District he already represents. But Maloney’s own house was drawn into the 17th District.

There’s no law in New York that you have to live in the district you represent, and Maloney living nearby would be fine, especially since he’s well known there, having defeated a popular moderate Republican, Nan Hayworth, in 2012.

On Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi threw her support behind Maloney, saying his move wouldn’t hurt Democratic prospects in the House. The only way that’s conceivable is if Pelosi and Maloney are confident he won’t actually have a primary.

Maloney didn’t want to primary Jones; he wanted Jones to step aside for him. When Jones’s staffer sent a Maloney staffer a pissed-off text message after Maloney’s announcement, the Maloney staffer shot back, “you guys live in 16 right?”

There’s an extraordinary amount of subtext in those texts. First, as the Jones aide notes, last year, Maloney was supporting a liquid natural gas project in Maloney’s district near a predominantly Black community; Jones had promised to oppose it during his campaign. Jones prepared a letter expressing opposition as one of his first acts in Congress, and Maloney exploded, a source familiar with the conflict said. That Jones’s staff hadn’t given Maloney a heads-up was considered a major breach of protocol on top of the substance of the opposition. Some Jones staffers feel that Maloney has held the grudge to this day.

And, yes, Jones technically lives in the new 16th, but he represents most of the 17th and has spent most of his life in the area. He was raised in the Village of Spring Valley by a single mother who cleaned houses in the district. He went through East Ramapo public schools, before going to Stanford and then Harvard Law School. When he was sworn in, he was the first openly gay Black member of Congress.

The reference to Jones living in the 16th is the DCCC chair’s hope that Jones would run there and challenge Squad member Jamaal Bowman, who is a Democrat in poor standing for having unseated an incumbent, former Foreign Affairs Chair Eliot Engel, a top ally of Israel in Congress.

Jones’s polling showed him narrowly trailing in the general election in the 17th District in what is shaping up to be a brutal election year.

According to sources familiar with Jones’s campaign strategy, he’s been preparing for a potential primary challenge with Bowman for the last year. He has regularly told donors that he needed to build up a war chest to be ready, though he didn’t say he wanted it to happen.

After the preliminary, court-drawn maps were proposed, voters in the 16th began seeing polls testing a race between Bowman and Jones. Bowman’s campaign was not running the poll, they told The Intercept. No similar poll in the 17th testing Jones against Maloney has been discovered. Multiple Democratic members of Congress who spoke with Jones before the survey results came back got the impression that he was leaning heavily toward challenging Bowman.

Bowman didn’t mince words in his statement on Thursday confirming that he’s running for his seat in the 16th.

But let’s also be clear about this: two Black men who worked hard to represent their communities, who fight hard for their constituents in Congress and advocate for dire needs in our communities should not be pitted against each other all because Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney wants to have a slightly easier district for himself. The Democratic Party should not tolerate or condone those who try to dismantle and tear down Black power in Congress. I’m proud that many of my Democratic colleagues have stood up and made clear that this is wrong, and I encourage more to do the same.

The solution is simple. Congressman Maloney should run in his own district. I’ll be running in mine.

Maloney dialed up the racial tension by having allies spread the idea that Jones was “ideologically better suited for another district.” That’s incorrect on the face: Jones won comfortably in a very competitive primary in 2020. Then in the general election Biden carried the district by 20 points, but Jones carried it by 24 points. That makes him more in step with the district than Biden.

Rep. Ritchie Torres, who represents the 15th District, mostly in the Bronx, slammed Maloney. “The thinly veiled racism here is profoundly disappointing,” he said, a statement made even more notable by the fact that Torres has been in an open war with the left for several years and was a close ally of Engel. “A black man is ideologically ill suited to represent a Westchester County District that he represents presently and won decisively in 2020? Outrageous.”

Torres had his own motivation, though: He didn’t want Bowman jumping into his district.

With Jones’s own polling in the 17th District showing him slightly behind in a general election, a bruising and expensive primary against Maloney wouldn’t help those numbers. Jones also knew that Maloney would have endless resources. And if he beat Maloney, he’d then have to appeal for support in the general to the same organization Maloney now runs.

The alternative, running in the 16th against Bowman, was tantalizing. Jones had a much larger war chest than Bowman and could expect outside help, likely from the same pro-Israel groups that spent $2 million against Bowman in 2020. And the district is much safer, so winning the primary would lock in a seat in Congress.


The Rise of the Left (With Mondaire Jones)

Yet after the results of the Bowman-Jones survey came in, the offer started to look even worse, multiple Democrats who spoke with Jones said, and Jones’s interest in challenging Bowman began to wane. “He was jarred by whatever those Bowman numbers told him,” said one Democratic member of Congress who spoke to Jones.

The challenge to Bowman had little upside for Jones: In one scenario, the well-liked Bowman could plausibly fend Jones off, making Jones not just disloyal and opportunistic, but a loser. In the alternate scenario, Jones could beat Bowman, but it would be tarred by the fact that Jones had needlessly challenged a popular member of the Squad. His only route forward in politics would be further into the belly of the establishment. The party establishment, in the form of the DCCC chair, was offering permanent membership in the club, but Jones would have to prove his loyalty by handing over the district he fought for and heading off to execute his ally. For the rest of his career, he would know that what he had amassed was built on that decision, and his statewide or national aspirations might have a ceiling, as the progressive wing wouldn’t forget his betrayal.

Into this dilemma yawned the wide open New York 10th District, covering lower Manhattan and part of Brooklyn. Colleagues who spoke with Jones said he only began entertaining the possibility Friday morning. The final maps had been expected Friday afternoon but were pushed to Friday evening and then well into the night. Democrats were holding out hope that the special master would fix the situation in those final maps, drawing Maloney’s house back into the 18th District and Jones’s back into the 17th. It didn’t happen and surveying the new maps after midnight, Jones decided Manhattan would have to do.

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