Mayor Jondavid Longo talks ‘service over self,’ America in 2024

Longo’s influences, views on the role of education and a lack of ‘American exceptionalism’

Published by Hayden Schultz, Date: April 9, 2024
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(PHOTO COURTESY OF JONDAVID LONGO) Slippery Rock Mayor Jondavid Longo delivers a speech at North Country Brewery Co. tap room during a Jan. 23, 2022 "Red Wave Rally" for a possible Pennsylvania House Representative Seat. Longo recently announced his placement on the April 23, 2024, Pennsylvania Primary Election ballot, running for delegate to the Republican National Convention after receiving sufficient petitions from Pa.'s 16th Congressional District.

“All the time I say, ‘Thank God I was born here.’”

Before winning Slippery Rock’s 2018 mayoral race, Jondavid Longo served as an 0311 Infantry Rifleman in the United States Marine Corps during Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Saber Strike.

“Being in the Marine Corps gave me an opportunity to go to a place like Afghanistan and see how the other half of the world lives and the challenges those people face,” the mayor said. “I got to witness real evil.”

Longo was deployed to Afghanistan from 2010 to 2011 and tasked with an area of operation roughly 100 miles in radius, including the city of Sangin, Afghanistan, a hotbed of terrorism at the time.

The mayor said this was a privilege, not only by serving the country but seeing the oppression of evil and doing something about it.

Perspectives from the Marine Corps

The Taliban continued to wrestle for Afghanistan and surrounding territory until the U.S.’s withdrawal, announced by President Joe Biden in April 2021, when the Taliban reoccupied the country.

“We enjoy so much more than the overwhelming majority of people,” Longo said. “I reflect on how special something like being able to go to the grocery store and not worrying where my next meal is coming from, or something as simple as getting to exercise a right to vote without being threatened with murder or torture.”

As part of the Regimental Combat Team 2’s quick reaction force, Longo assisted with humanitarian aid, delivered fertilizer to farmers and once escorted former ambassador of the United States, Karl Eikenberry to Afghanistan.

“When you join the military, you are given the opportunity to serve your nation and good people around the world. You take it for granted,” he said.

Longo explained the reason why he ran for mayor is to serve others, something he learned from his family and military experience. He holds these values with his other roles, including Slippery Rock Area Parks and Recreation Board President, Butler County Community Action Partnership and Glade Run Lutheran Services.

Longo recalled a distinct memory from his service in Afghanistan when someone in leadership wrote on a dry erase board in their base.

“It said on the dry erase board, ‘America is not at war, the Marine Corps is at war. America is at the mall,’” he said.

Longo said he reflects on the quote frequently.

“Oftentimes we are so oblivious to all the bad things around the world because we are safe and comfortable,” he said.

Longo explained comfort is why we fight about “frivolous things” while others across the world are trying to survive a civil war or genocide. Longo also said shielding from reality in America is why we have become “soft and complacent.”

“I think [the softening of Americans] has compromised us,” he said, noting cultural issues and the competency of America on a global scale.

“You and I are arguing here in the United States over which bathroom to use, meanwhile our adversaries and competitors around the world are building strong militaries and reaching across the aisle to do business and undermine us,” he said. “Are we focused on the right thing here?”

First-generation and influences 

The American ideals of opportunity and freedom are close to Longo, and as a first-generation American, he said opportunity in America is unique to a majority of the 8 billion people on the globe.

His father came to America in 1988 not speaking a word of English or knowing a trade. His mother’s family arrived in the early 1900s. Neither of his parents received a college degree yet managed to own a home and raise a family. However, it did not come easily for them, according to Longo.

“Americans of Italian descent, Catholics, historically have not been treated with a lot of dignity and respect,” he said, noting events such as the New Orleans lynching of 11 Italian Americans in 1891 for their alleged role in killing a police chief.

Longo explained how historically in America, Italian was not spoken outside of the home, segregated neighborhoods for Italians were the norm and jobs often rejected Italians, among other groups he noted such as Irish or Black Americans, simply for their ethnicity. He said the discrimination of Italians is an oft-overlooked part of history.

Enduring racial epithets and harassment for his heritage and father being a non-citizen are nothing new for the mayor.

Longo recalled an event stapled to his memory after a birthday party in his youth. One of his best friends at the time did not show up, leaving six-year-old Longo wondering. 

He said his friend’s parents did not let him come because they were not allowed to hang out with Italians. This was in the 1990s.

“Growing up with that perspective was unique because it also was a tool for my parents to use,” the mayor said. “No matter what you’re facing now, no matter who’s telling you can’t, you can, and there is always a way to persevere.”

Longo said his dad came to America with “lint in his pocket,” much like his mother’s side of the family. To this day, his father remains a citizen of Italy and a legal resident alien of the United States, as Italy does not permit dual citizenship.

“I don’t blame him, because I would never relinquish my American citizenship,” Longo said.

Even without luxuries like old money or an old name, Longo said that “work ethic was worth its weight in gold” and it taught him “nowhere else in the world could they have achieved what they achieved.”

Although he said his father came over with little to nothing, he did come with a belief in Christ and a hard work ethic. Catholicism remains a guiding structure for Longo’s spiritual and moral values.

“My faith has stuck with me throughout the entirety of my life and was a big part of getting me through my deployment to Afghanistan,” the mayor said.

Longo started his military career at Beaver Area High School Jr. ROTC, marking his first stepping stone into the Marine Corps.

“What it means to be a man, what it means to be a patriotic individual, to be a good citizen, to put others before yourself, to never give up,” he said as to what he learned from his superiors. “To make the world a better place than what we came into.”

Vision for education

Looking back on his military days, Longo once again reflected on how lucky Americans are, specifically in how citizens have a say in their education.

“Girls were not allowed to go to school at that time,” referring to rule under the Taliban. “And if you did go to school under the Taliban, the only thing you were learning how to do was to read and write out of the Quran.”

His observations in Afghanistan, alongside his ambition to serve people, is why Longo said he continues his education. Now working towards his Master of Public Administration and Policy from American University in Washington, D.C., he also earned his Master’s in Education with a concentration in secondary education and social studies in addition to his bachelor’s in history at SRU.

Objectivity is something Longo said is vital to him as a history major and educator, but he understands subjectivity is inevitable for humans. Due to subjectivity, Longo believes our system requires vigorous debate and proliferation of ideas throughout society.

“What we need to try and do if we are going to be intellectually inclined and participate in a society such as our that demands debate and deliberation over ideas, is we need to be willing to take a step outside of our traditional viewpoint or lens and look at things from all angles so that we can make the best and most informed decision,” he said.

However, Longo said the behavior of hearing different ideas is uncommon. Currently teaching at Butler County Community College, he has seen a lot of discomfort in the classroom.

“Any educator who is worth their weight would tell you that what they want in their classroom is a safe place for everybody to exchange their thoughts and opinions in a respectful manner and to challenge ideas so you can grow in your own right,” he said.

Longo said he, along with people from the SRU community and higher education, have felt they could be punished for voicing a thought or opinion on something a professor does not agree with.

According to Longo, it is typically from a professor or teacher on the left side of the aisle trying to stifle a more conservative-leaning student. He said students and parents are scared to speak up because their future is held in the hands of educators.

“I am not sure that we are challenging our young people enough to get them in line with the fact the world is not a place that is going to recognize your truth as truth all the time,” he said. “You are going to be challenged and you will have opposed thoughts and feelings.”

The mayor said the culture in America has created an idea that teaches “every individual that their particular sensitivities and particular thoughts and feelings are all so special and unique, that they all need to be held in high regard and considered to be true.”

Longo believes the only people who should be influencing the fabric of student’s minds are their caretakers, parents or religious leaders. He said it is not an educator’s duty to plant a certain viewpoint in somebody’s mind, but rather it is “their duty to allow them the opportunity to find that [viewpoint].”

“Just as much as government institutions need to be held to that standard, so too do our academic institutions to make sure our students are given opportunity to be as objective as possible, by not being spoon-fed propaganda, or certain viewpoints,” he said.

Longo frequently consumes MSNBC and CNN, where he said, like his classroom, “if somebody has a good enough argument against [me], then I want to be big enough to be able to change my mind on that, and I invite people to change my mind on things.”

By forcing children to interact solely over the internet during the COVID-19 pandemic, he said it made them more prone to hiding behind their screens, using them as a shield for uncomfortable social situations.

“People who are very young are oftentimes very impressionable,” he said. “So [they] might not take the opportunity to do [their] own homework or investigation.”

Longo said he worries misinformation and taking things at face value by a generation glued to their phones will continue to reinforce echo chambers of ideas.

“We, naturally, like water, are going to take the path of least resistance and find those groups to feed us what we want to hear to corroborate and legitimize the feelings we are having,” Longo said. “But that’s a really dangerous place to be in because interacting solely online gives you a chance to stop any interaction with folks who might disagree with you.”

Longo said the pandemic era made it impossible for kids to understand social cues and caused discomfort in social settings, something he is not sure if we can entirely repair.

“I don’t think that we can ever give back to those students and young people what they lost in the COVID shutdowns,” he said. “It normalized the abnormal.”

Future of America’s political climate

Longo said one of the biggest issues with American culture is seeing people in leadership roles who “make concessions to small segments of the population for something that might seem frivolous.”

The mayor said he is not sure if these decisions are serving the American people well.

“We hear that term Nazi or the term fascist thrown around carelessly,” he said. “When we use those words carelessly to describe somebody who we disagree with politically, it cheapens the weight of the word and is a disservice to people living under those regimes, and it does even more of a disservice for those people who made their way from those places to the United States for a better life.”

Moreover, Longo said he is concerned with self-flagellation in the American zeitgeist and the disappearance of “American exceptionalism.”

“We stopped believing we were the best nation in the world that could meet any challenge, we started to doubt ourselves, and at some point, we started to deny ourselves those positive thoughts and feelings,” he said.

Looking onward to November, Longo believed some of these problems might be solved with a switch of leadership, something he is confident will happen.

“I think Donald Trump’s going to win the election,” he said. “I think Americans have seen over four years of the Biden Administration how strong the Trump Administration was.”

Longo cited simple things such as the price of gas and groceries, and more complex issues like America’s entanglement in foreign wars involving Ukraine and Israel.

“I wonder why it is that Vladimir Putin and Russia chose to invade Ukraine immediately following the leaving of President Trump from office,” he said. “It almost seems like it was perfectly timed.”

Longo does not believe Trump’s legal woes will stop him from becoming the next president, and according to Longo, his charges may be chalked up to abuse of the legal system and politically motivated actions.

“I think it’s a travesty and recently we’ve seen some examples where the American justice system was weaponized,” he said. “I think it’s a shame, we hear all the time about ‘threats to democracy’ but I can tell you, in 34 years, I have never seen so much obvious corruption and abuse of power as I have in the last eight years since President Trump ran for office.”

Longo cited events such as what he described as a collaboration between government officials being “in cahoots” with entities in the media. One example he elaborated on was Twitter and Facebook “deliberately stifling” the Hunter Biden laptop story which he said may have been “damaging to the Biden administration’s bid for the presidency.” The question, he said, is if “the United States government should be contracting individual businesses or business entities to stifle information from one political party or another.”

The mayor is currently running for a spot as a delegate to the Republican National Convention (RNC) in the upcoming Pennsylvania primary election on April 23. 

He has endorsed Trump and hopes to support the RNC’s effort in the 2024 election by registering as many voters as possible for the Republican party in the area. He said the most important thing is for people to get out and have their voices heard.

Even with his ambitions for the Republican party in the election, the mayor said the Slippery Rock community and his duties as mayor will come first.

“No political ambition will ever keep me from fulfilling my duties to my constituents and the citizens here that expect me to go to work for them,” the mayor said.

“Service over self” is Longo’s motto, something he said was instilled in him by his family, faith and his time in the Marine Corps. The mayor said education and public office continue to act as a means for him to serve again. And although not identical to the Marine Corps, Longo believes these mediums help connect him to the idea of service, an idea long engrained into his character and a guiding pillar in his life.

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Hayden Schultz is a junior Strategic Communication and Media Major with a concentration in multimedia journalism and minor in political science. He serves as the assistant news editor and this is his first semester on The Rocket staff. When he is not writing or investigating, Hayden enjoys athletics and MMA in his free time, along with spending time with family and friends.

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