Mondaire Jones looks to reclaim his old seat against challenger with a Democratic pedigree 

In the district with the largest Jewish constituency in the country, Jones reiterates his pro-Israel bona fides

The race for a key swing seat that could ultimately determine the House majority grew even more competitive last week when former Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-NY) launched a widely anticipated bid to reclaim his old district in the Lower Hudson Valley.

Jones, 36, is running against freshman Rep. Mike Lawler (R-NY), who is among the most vulnerable Republicans up for reelection in 2024 — if he can win a hotly-contested primary. Jones will first be facing a potentially formidable Democratic rival, Liz Whitmer Gereghty, who announced her candidacy in May and has been campaigning aggressively across the district.

The June 25 primary clash would pit a nationally recognized progressive stalwart with deep ties to Democratic leadership against a relatively moderate first-time candidate who boasts an illustrious political pedigree: Gereghty, 50, is the younger sister of Gretchen Whitmer, Michigan’s popular Democratic governor.

In an interview with Jewish Insider last week, Jones, a prolific fundraiser whose campaign announced a $300,000 cash haul on Thursday, claimed to be unfazed by the matchup. He cited a favorable internal poll, commissioned in early May, showing a 35-point lead over Gereghty, whom he dismissed as “his next closest primary opponent.”

Gereghty, meanwhile, made no predictions about the outcome of the race, suggesting that her interest in running stems in part from what she described as “a duty to protect” democratic norms. “You want to see a competition of ideas,” she said in an interview with JI on Thursday. “I think that’s good for all of us.”

The small businesswoman and former school board member, who lives in Katonah, raised at least $400,000 last quarter, according to her campaign, and recently drew an endorsement from EMILY’s List, the influential abortion rights group. 

But Jones indicated that he is already focusing on the general election, testing a message that he is likely to invoke with increasing regularity as he sets his sights on the Republican incumbent. He said he was “looking forward to defeating” Lawler, whose record he criticized as “indistinguishable” from House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and “the extreme MAGA Republicans who empower him.”

In a series of fundraising emails, Lawler’s campaign — touting a commitment to bipartisanship in a district that President Joe Biden won by 10 points in 2020 — has begun casting Jones as a “radical progressive” who previously won backing from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and has expressed support for the movement to defund the police, among other potential liabilities.

Jones, however, rejected such efforts as distractions. “One of the things my Republican opponent will have to grapple with in this race is my legislative record of consistently voting for historic levels of funding for law enforcement,” he countered, later adding that he is eager to engage in “a robust conversation about public safety.”

Lawler, 36, raised over $900,000 in the three months between May and July and has nearly $1.5 million on hand as he runs unopposed in the GOP primary, his campaign said on Thursday.

While Jones has evolved on some issues since he assumed office as one of the first openly gay Black men to serve in the House, the former congressman — in contrast with some of his colleagues on the left — has remained consistent in his support for Israel.

During his time in Congress, for instance, he opposed conditions on U.S. aid to Israel, voted to fund Israel’s Iron Dome missile-defense system and co-sponsored legislation to advance the Abraham Accords.

“In part because I had such a strong record of supporting Israel, even when the district was a safely blue seat,” Jones said, “I don’t really expect that my opponents, whether in the primary or in the general, would dare try to distort a record that is so obvious to people in my district.”

Jones recognized that Israel is a key issue to the sizable number of Jewish voters in New York’s 17th Congressional District, which currently includes all of Rockland County, home to the largest Jewish population per capita of any county in the U.S. 

In speaking with former constituents, he said he continues to hear from Jewish voters who have expressed “concern” over a controversial judicial overhaul promoted by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and members of his far-right governing coalition.

But in the interview with JI, he remained neutral on the judicial reforms, even as several Democratic leaders have voiced reservations in recent months. “My feeling is that those events are none of my business really,” Jones said,” so long as we continue to support Israel.”

“I’ve always been committed to providing Israel with the resources it needs to defend itself,” he explained. “I think recent events this year have vindicated me in that legislative record that I’ve been able to accumulate over the past two years, including as a candidate the first time I ran in this district.”

Jones replaced former Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY), a pro-Israel champion, in 2021. The next cycle, the Rockland County native sought reelection in New York City after his district had been redrawn, avoiding a potentially bruising primary against a powerful incumbent, former Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY), who was narrowly defeated by Lawler in the general election. 

Jones, for his part, was ousted in a bitterly contested primary to represent Lower Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn.

Even as Lawler has built connections with Orthodox Jewish voters in Rockland County, who were largely credited with propelling his upset victory in 2022, Jones said he “fully” expects to receive strong support from the Jewish community in a district covering approximately three-quarters of his former seat. 

Last week, Jones rolled out a list of 109 endorsements from local elected officials and party leaders, but House Democrats have yet to weigh in on the race amid uncertainty over a potential redistricting process that could reshape New York’s congressional lines before the primaries. Pro-Israel groups are likewise now steering clear of the race, which includes a third Democratic candidate, MaryAnn Carr, a former Bedford town supervisor who is not seen as viable at the moment.

Speaking with JI in a brief phone interview, Gereghty said she has engaged with pro-Israel groups as she fine-tunes her own approach to Middle East policy. “I am proud to be a Democrat who is an unwavering supporter of Israel,” she said. “I think that is important to this district and to my community.”

Like Jones, she expressed support for continued U.S. security assistance for Israel and suggested that she would oppose efforts to condition aid if she is elected. “There’s always a worry about conditioning and creating perverse outcomes,” she told JI.

As for the judicial overhaul, Gereghty said she has been “watching with great interest” as protests have unfolded across Israel in recent months. “One of the things I can say is that, in all good democracies, you need checks and balances and rule of law,” she observed. “The will of the people must be represented by elected leaders.”

“We are watching a democracy function with significant, really large, peaceful protests for Israeli citizens to make their voices heard,” she added. “That’s democracy, and I think that supporting the one democracy in the Middle East is really important. It’s good to see this amount of engagement and protest and people demanding to be heard on this issue.”

Gereghty hopes to benefit from her familial connection to Michigan’s powerful governor, which she has begun to emphasize, at least indirectly, in promotional materials.

While she entered the race identifying simply as Liz Gereghty, the congressional hopeful has since amended her campaign site and Twitter page to include her family name, according to archived screenshots. She now identifies as “Liz Whitmer Gereghty.”

“I’m excited,” Gereghty told JI last week. “I’m fired up. I’ve enjoyed really getting out and talking to a lot of people. I’m learning a lot.”

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