News & Politics

Sean Patrick Maloney offered to withdraw from 2022 NY-17 primary, but Mondaire Jones turned him down

In a previously unreported conversation, Maloney offered to withdraw from the Democratic primary so that Jones could continue representing NY-17, but Jones declined so he could run in a different district.

Former Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (center) offered to withdraw from the Democratic primary for the 17th Congressional district so that former Rep. Mondaire Jones (center left) could continue to represent it.

Former Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (center) offered to withdraw from the Democratic primary for the 17th Congressional district so that former Rep. Mondaire Jones (center left) could continue to represent it. Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

For the last two years in New York politics, Mondaire Jones has been understood as the spurned ex-congressman caught in the blast radius of former Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney’s ego. 

As the story goes, Maloney, then the chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, decided that he would rather run in the district represented by Jones than his own, forcing the young Black congressman into a dilemma. He could either stand his ground and fight an expensive primary against one of the most powerful members of his own party or launch a primary challenge against Rep. Jamaal Bowman, a fellow progressive Black congressman who represented the neighboring 16th Congressional District. Since he refused on principle to challenge Bowman, and Maloney insisted on running in NY-17, Jones was forced to move to Brooklyn and run for an open seat in the 10th Congressional District.

But sources with direct knowledge of the Jones campaign’s inner workings told City & State that this narrative is essentially false. In May 2022, as progressives blasted Maloney for forcing Jones out of NY-17, Maloney contacted Jones and offered to pull out of the NY-17 race, only for Jones to turn him down because he preferred to run in a different district. And far from being reluctant to challenge Bowman, Jones was eager to primary his neighbor – at least until internal poll results showed that he had no hope of defeating him.

A private offer to withdraw

On May 16, 2022, just 25 minutes after new congressional maps were released, Maloney announced that he planned to run in the newly redrawn 17th Congressional District, rather than the 18th Congressional District that he then represented, since his hometown of Cold Spring had been drawn into NY-17. 

“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,” Jones told Politico shortly after Maloney’s announcement.

Progressives were livid, seeing Maloney’s decision as an attempt to bigfoot Jones, a young Black progressive serving his first term in Congress, out of his seat. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez even called on Maloney to resign his position as chair of the DCCC, calling the move “particularly shameful as a member of Democratic leadership.” 

Maloney did not respond to a request for comment.

Publicly, Jones suggested that he did not want to challenge Bowman or Maloney, implying that he would have run in NY-17 but for Maloney’s presence in the primary. “I did not want to run against a fellow Black progressive ... (or) the guy whose primary job responsibility is to fend off fascism,” he told Axios in August 2022.

But the truth, according to a former senior staffer on Jones’ campaign, was that Jones did not want to run in NY-17, which had been redrawn to be significantly less friendly to Democrats. “The broader grassroots coalition was intent that he run in 17. And he would not entertain running in 17,” the former staffer said.

When the new congressional district maps were finalized on May 20, 2022, Maloney reached out to Jones to discuss the primary. During that conversation – the existence of which has never previously been reported – Maloney offered to pull out of the NY-17 race so that Jones could continue representing the district, according to the former Jones senior staffer and a second person familiar with the conversation. Jones declined Maloney’s offer.

Jones did not respond to multiple requests for comment. After this story was published, Jones sent a statement to the New York Post rejecting the sources’ claims.

“Given that the entire world saw Sean Patrick Maloney publicly announce his decision to run in the 17th district without consulting me, the rumors started this week by disgruntled, anti-Israel extremists following my endorsement of George Latimer are laughably untrue,” Jones said in the statement.

In the statement, Jones referred only to Maloney’s initial decision to declare his candidacy in NY-17 on May 16, 2022. He did not deny that Maloney called him four days later and offered to withdraw from the race.

Internal poll results

Jones was not reluctant to challenge Bowman, according to the former Jones staffer. In fact, they said, Jones wanted to run against Bowman in NY-16 and even took steps to test the waters for a potential primary challenge.

Campaign finance records show that the Jones campaign paid $25,000 to polling firm EMC Research during this time period, and he reported the expenditure on May 27, 2022. That payment was related to a poll that the Jones campaign commissioned in NY-16 testing a hypothetical match-up between himself and Bowman, according to three people familiar with the poll.

“He was intent on running in 16, so we decided to poll in 16 to find just how disastrous a decision that would be. The poll came back – obviously it was a sufficiently high hurdle to clear that Mondaire did not feel he could do it in the 90 days we had,” the former staffer said, adding that the results of the poll showed “about a 35-point spread,” with support for Bowman above 50% and support for Jones around 20%.

Bowman later got wind of the poll and asked Jones about it, but Jones denied to him that it had been conducted, according to the former Jones staffer and another person familiar with the conversation.

While weighing whether to challenge Bowman, Jones received calls from prominent individuals throughout the Democratic Party urging him not to run in NY-16, the former staffer recalled.

Rather than launch a doomed challenge against Bowman or risk a tough general election fight in NY-17, Jones ultimately decided to move to Brooklyn and run in the crowded Democratic primary for the open seat in the 10th Congressional District. 

Jones’ allies later said that the congressman believed that the Working Families Party, which had already endorsed him in NY-17, would also endorse him in NY-10. But that did not happen; instead, the WFP endorsed Assembly Member Yuh-Line Niou. In the end, Jones, Niou and New York City Council Member Carlina Rivera split the progressive vote, and Rep. Dan Goldman won the seat. 

With Jones off in Brooklyn, Maloney won the Democratic nomination in NY-17 but lost the general election to Republican Rep. Mike Lawler. On Nov. 9, 2022, once Maloney’s race was called in favor of Lawler, Jones went on Twitter to rub it in. “Yikes,” he tweeted. 

Betraying Bowman

Two years after the disastrous 2022 election, everyone has moved on. Maloney now has a cushy gig in Paris as the U.S. ambassador to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Jones has moved back to the suburbs and is once again running to represent NY-17. He has rebranded himself as “pragmatic” instead of “progressive” in hopes of winning enough suburban support to unseat Lawler. The Republican congressman has attempted to paint Jones as a close ally of Bowman, who himself faces a strong primary challenge from Westchester County Executive George Latimer in NY-16. 

When Jones was asked a year ago whether he would endorse Bowman, he gave an evasive answer. “As Jamaal Bowman has shown time and time again, he does not need my endorsement to defeat his primary opponents,” Jones wrote in a text message at the time. “The suggestion that he does is offensive.”

On Tuesday, Jones took his strongest step yet to distance himself from Bowman, endorsing Latimer and harshly criticizing Bowman, who has been an outspoken critic of Israel’s war in Gaza, for sowing “pain and anxiety” among Jewish New Yorkers. Aligning himself closely with Latimer, who has received more than $10 million from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s super PAC, may give Jones a boost in NY-17.

While there are still plenty of pictures of him and Bowman on the campaign trail together, Jones has now officially renounced any perceived allyship to the Squad – which has infuriated his erstwhile progressive allies. The Congressional Progressive Caucus PAC, which had endorsed both Bowman and Jones, rescinded its endorsement of the latter. The state WFP, which has endorsed both Bowman and Jones, announced that it would pull all support from Jones’ campaign.

Even Lawler, who had previously criticized Jones for aligning himself with Bowman, attempted to capitalize on progressive anger toward him. “Yikes,” he wrote on X. “Even the squad is angry at @MondaireJones for his duplicity.”