April 25, 2018 By Tara Law
A progressive Democrat is running a grassroots campaign to “end” Joseph Crowley’s 19-year tenure in congress.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a 28-year-old resident of Parkchester in the Bronx, is working full-time to replace Crowley as the Democrat representing the 14th congressional district, which covers north west Queens and a southern portion of the Bronx.
On June 26, Ocasio-Cortez will face Crowley as the Congressman’s first primary challenger in 14 years.
She faces long odds to win the race, given Crowley’s clout as Chair of the House Democratic Caucus and the head of the Queens County Democratic Party. Crowley sits on a war chest of about $1.6 million, compared to Ocasio-Cortez’s $49,000, according to campaign funds tracker Opensecrets.org.
Ocasio-Cortez said she is counting on voters’ disillusionment with machine politics—as well as changing demographics—in order to win.
“The Queens of today is not the Queens of 20 years ago,” said Ocasio-Cortez, adding that the same is true of the Bronx. “We deserve representation that understands that and knows who actually lives here. Residents can trust me and my campaign to deliver…we do not take corporate money.”
Ocasio-Cortez is a first-time candidate but an experienced organizer. She helped coordinate Senator Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign in the South Bronx and was the former educational director for the National Hispanic Institute, a nonprofit that cultivates potential civic leaders from the Hispanic community.
In Sanders’ tradition, Ocasio-Cortez is an unabashed progressive who says she refuses to accept corporate donations, and endorses free public college and trade school, a higher minimum wage, universal Medicare, a 100 percent renewable energy economy and reducing the country’s prison population.
Two months ahead of the primary, her campaign has gained some traction. She received 5,480 signatures to get on the ballot, more than the 1,250-signature requirement, and has collected about 12,500 donations from 7,000 individual donors. The campaign received an average donation of $11.50 during the first three months of 2018.
“When you’re fighting against a candidate who is bankrolled by [corporations], you don’t beat them by out-fundraising them; you beat them by out-organizing them,” Ocasio-Cortez said.
She said that her campaign has been driven by energetic first-time political volunteers. For example, she relied on 140 volunteers to collect signatures to get on the ballot as opposed to hiring a petition drive management company.
Volunteers for her campaign are running phone banks, sharing fliers on social media and inviting her to their homes to speak with their neighbors, said Ocasio-Cortez.
“A lot of this campaign has been happening in people’s living rooms,” Ocasio-Cortez said.
Ocasio-Cortez believes that her working-class background will resonate with many voters.
She was born in the Bronx to a Puerto Rican mother–who was a housekeeper–and a father who was an architect. Ocasio-Cortez was raised upstate after her parents decided to move for quality schools.
She went to Boston University and worked for Senator Ted Kennedy handling constituent issues. She said her time at Kennedy’s office deepened her commitment to public service but helped her understand why people from less privileged backgrounds struggle to get into office.
“As much as I loved that experience, it really felt that electoral politics was really dominated— too much— by big money and dynastic power. And that I, as a girl from the Bronx, had none of those things,” Ocasio-Cortez said.
Ocasio-Cortez returned to the Bronx after college and worked for the National Hispanic Institute. A few years later, Ocasio-Cortez joined Senator Sander’s campaign for president.
Ocasio-Cortez said her campaign builds on Sanders’ message. She said that her campaign is part of a “national movement” to keep money out of politics and to make the Democratic Party more progressive.
According to Ocasio-Cortez, Crowley is the embodiment of a candidate who has become embedded in special interests.
“We’re not just talking about a congressman— we’re talking about the chair of the Queens Democratic party that is a notorious machine,” Ocasio-Cortez said.
“It’s an open secret— the very heavy role Joseph Crowley played in appointing the City Council speaker, and it’s highly unusual and it’s highly suspect for an incumbent to be chairman of a Democratic party presiding over his own endorsement.”
Ocasio-Cortez claims that Democratic voters have grown tired of establishment politics and will cast their ballots for her–a “true progressive.”