News & Politics

Senior staffer on 2022 Maloney campaign confirms existence of Mondaire Jones phone call

The former staffer said they heard Sean Patrick Maloney call Jones and offer to drop out of the NY-17 primary.

While chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in 2022, Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney ran for reelection in the 17th Congressional District, which had previously been represented by Rep. Mondaire Jones.

While chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in 2022, Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney ran for reelection in the 17th Congressional District, which had previously been represented by Rep. Mondaire Jones. Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images

A former top campaign staffer for former Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney confirmed to City & State that Maloney called former Rep. Mondaire Jones in May 2022 and offered to withdraw from the Democratic primary for the 17th Congressional District.

“The story leaked by former Jones staffers is accurate,” said the former staffer, who listened to the phone conversation that Maloney had with Jones.

The existence of the phone call between Jones and Maloney, who was the chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee at the time, was first revealed by City & State on Friday. During that phone call, according to the former Maloney staffer and two other people who were later briefed on its contents, Maloney said that he would back out of the NY-17 primary if Jones really wanted to run in the district and Jones responded that he wasn’t interested in Maloney’s offer.

Hours after that phone call, Jones publicly announced that he would run in the Democratic primary for the 10th Congressional District in Brooklyn and lower Manhattan – a race he later lost to Democratic Rep. Dan Goldman. Meanwhile, Maloney ran as the Democratic nominee in NY-17 but narrowly lost the general election to Republican Rep. Mike Lawler. Jones is now running to regain his old seat from Lawler.

Maloney, who now serves as the U.S. Ambassador to the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development in Paris, did not respond to a request for comment.

“Maloney’s silence then and the reluctance of his former staff now is out of a shared belief that this is a distraction from the vital mission of beating MAGA Mike Lawler and making Hakeem Jeffries Speaker (of the House),” the former Maloney staffer told City & State.

On Friday, after not responding to repeated requests for comment from City & State, Jones went on CNN and claimed it was untrue that Maloney was willing to drop out of the 17th District primary.

“It is not true, and it’s not just in my view, it’s in the view of everyone who watched this go down back then, right? I mean we all saw in a very public way how Mr. Maloney, then the chair of the DCCC, said he would run in the 17th Congressional District without even consulting me,” Jones said on CNN. “So this is what happens when you stand up to extremism, when you stand up to the far left in the Democratic Party and outside of the Democratic Party. You have people who manufacture stories years later that are completely belied by everything we just witnessed first hand.”

Jones gave a similar statement to the New York Post. Following Jones’ claims on CNN that the story was untrue, additional sources with knowledge of the phone call came forward to corroborate the previous reporting.

“Mondaire knew how damaging this would be if it ever got out,” another source familiar with the situation said. “That’s why he kept it a secret then, and it’s why he’s lying about it now.” 

A spokesperson for Jones told City & State that he stands by his statement. The spokesperson did not respond when asked specifically whether Jones denied that Maloney had contacted him in May 2022 and offered to drop out of the primary.

Redistricting chaos

The recent revelation of the phone conversation between Maloney and Jones upended a two-year-old narrative about the 2022 Democratic primaries for New York’s 17th, 16th and 10th Congressional Districts. For two years, the media and political classes understood Jones as the sympathetic youngster elbowed out of his district by the calculating establishment villain. 

The saga started after a court-appointed special master released a draft version of new congressional district borders on May 16, 2022. Maloney had represented the 18th District since moving from Manhattan to the Hudson Valley district in 2012, but his residence in Cold Spring had been redrawn into the 17th District. Jones, who had been elected to Congress only two years earlier, represented the 17th District but had his home of White Plains drawn into the 16th District, which was represented by Rep. Jamaal Bowman.

Less than half an hour after the maps were released, and without giving Jones any heads-up, Maloney announced on Twitter that he planned to run in the 17th District since he was the only candidate who technically lived in the district. It was widely assumed that Jones wanted to run in the district but was being prevented from doing so by Maloney. Shortly after Maloney’s announcement, Nancy Pelosi gave her approval of the decision, telling reporters, “we’re very proud of Sean Patrick Maloney,” which furthered the perception that this was all the establishment’s doing.

Prominent voices in the party called on Maloney to run in the 18th District so that Jones could run in the 17th District. When he did not do so, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and others accused him of abusing his position as DCCC chair and called on him to resign.

As City & State previously reported, Jones actually preferred not to run in the 17th District, which is why he declined Maloney’s offer to withdraw from the race. The district had been reliably blue when he won it in 2020, in part by touting his support for the “Green New Deal” and defunding the police. But the special master had redrawn it to be a swing district, and Jones had a closet full of lefty skeletons that could have been a liability in the newly redrawn district. In the end, not even Maloney, the consummate establishment figure, was able to hold on to the district; he lost the general election to Lawler by fewer than 3,000 votes.

Keeping quiet

As Maloney was relentlessly attacked for supposedly pushing Jones out of the 17th District, Jones never mentioned that Maloney had actually offered to withdraw from the race. It seemed to be more politically advantageous for him to let people believe that the Democratic establishment had forced him to abandon his constituents rather than to come out and say that he was not sure he could have defeated a Republican challenger.

Why didn’t Maloney say anything? Sources close to him told City & State that Maloney – who was then in charge of the Democrats’ strategy to keep control of the House – kept quiet because he was hoping to minimize negative media attention for his party and did not want to rock the boat any more than Jones’ defenders already had.

Jones’ decision to move to Brooklyn and run in the 10th District offered a chance for Democratic leadership to mend fences, and Pelosi offered a rare primary endorsement of his campaign. The New York Times reported that Pelosi endorsed him in hope of making amends with him following the Maloney incident. 

After Jones lost the 10th District primary to Goldman and Maloney lost the 17th District general election to Lawler, Jones moved back to the Hudson Valley and began preparations for a campaign to take back his old seat in 2024. This year, the DCCC included Jones in the first round of its “Red to Blue” program, a reflection of the committee’s confidence in his capacity to unseat Lawler. “It’s a district that, candidly, should never have been lost, and one that we have to take back,” Jones told City & State in January.