In what is considered the biggest political earthquake in decades, a young political novice running on a low budget and an unabashedly liberal platform on Tuesday upset a congressman seen as the next Democratic party leader in a Queens primary.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a 28-year old member of the radical Democratic Socialists of America, defeated longtime Rep. Joseph Crowley, New York City’s most powerful powerbroker, in a district that includes parts of the Bronx and Queens. It came after an energetic, grassroots campaign that mustered more than enough support in a low-turnout race that many had expected to be an easy win for Crowley, a member of the Democratic House leadership.
“The community is ready for a movement of economic and social justice. That is what we tried to deliver,” said Ocasio-Cortez, who has never held elected office and whose candidacy attracted only modest media attention. Just one year ago she had been a bartender.
She told The Associated Press after her victory that she didn’t have enough money to do polling in the race, but felt in her gut that her message had a chance to connect.
“I live in this community. I organized in this community. I felt the absence of the incumbent. I knew he didn’t have a strong presence,” she said.
Crowley has been in Congress since 1999 and hadn’t faced an opponent in a primary election since 2004, when Ocasio-Cortez was just a teenager. He was considered a candidate to become the next House speaker if Democrats win the majority.
“It’s not about me,” Crowley, 56, told his supporters at a campaign party following his loss. “It’s about America. I want nothing but the best for Ms. Ocasio-Cortez. I want her to be victorious.”
Crowley represents New York’s 14th Congressional District, where he is also the leader of the Queens Democratic party. He outspent his opponent by an 18-1 margin. Ocasio-Cortez won the endorsement of some influential groups on the party’s far left, including MoveOn, as well as Cynthia Nixon, who is running for governor. She defeated Crowley by 15 percentage points.
“The Crowley team did not raise any red flags or ask allies for help with his primary,” marveled a national Democratic strategist to the Huffington Post.
But Ocasio-Cortez’s far left platform has some observers concerned, particularly her call for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to be abolished. Jewish activists also expressed anxiety with her position on Israel. As recently as this month she tweeted that Israel was perpetrating a “massacre” in Gaza.
“This is a huge loss for the community because he was a staunch supporter of Israel,” one activist told Hamodia on Wednesday. “She will probably be the reverse of him. She is anti-Israel — very anti-Israel. But the lesson learned here is that it’s all about your base. The district turned Hispanic and he was not doing any outreach to the Hispanic community.”
Born in the Bronx to a mother from Puerto Rico and a father who died in 2008, Ocasio-Cortez said she decided to challenge Crowley to push a more progressive stance on economic and other issues. After graduating Boston University, she returned to the Bronx where she became a community organizer. In the 2016 presidential campaign she worked for Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Among her issues is expanding the Medicare program to people of all ages and abolishing ICE. She recently went to Texas to protest against policies that have separated parents from their children at the southern U.S. border.
Crowley’s loss drew the attention of President Donald Trump, who tweeted, “Wow! Big Trump Hater Congressman Joe Crowley, who many expected was going to take Nancy Pelosi’s place, just LOST his primary election. In other words, he’s out! That is a big one that nobody saw happening. Perhaps he should have been nicer, and more respectful, to his President!”
The Republican candidate, Anthony Pappas, is running unopposed and had no primary. Pappas teaches economics at St. John’s University.