Backed by Sanders and the DSA, 28-year-old organizer unseats top-tier Democrat
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a 28-year-old educational director and community organizer from the Bronx, shocked Democrats when she ousted the incumbent Joe Crowley in House primaries on Thursday. Never before seen on the political stage, Ocasio-Cortez will likely become the first member of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) elected to Congress, assuming her far-left district carries her through the midterms.
Crowley is one of the most powerful Democrats in Congress and was on track to take up the mantle of Democratic leader of the House from Nancy Pelosi. Known as the King of Queens thanks to his position as chair of both the House Democratic Caucus and the Queens County Democratic Party, Crowley is a 14-year congressman who until Thursday had never faced a candidate from his own party. Daunted by an increasingly contentious race, he outspent his opponent 3.4 million to 300,000 dollars. Ocasio-Cortez, who refused to accept money from super PACs and corporate lobbyists, routinely attacked Crowley for what she characterized as the corporate sponsorship of his campaign.
“This race is more than just about diversity or race,” said Ocasio-Cortez during a televised debate with Crowley, “it’s about class.”
Ocasio-Cortez ran an aggressive campaign, targeting her opponent and the Democratic party at large for their continued kowtowing to corporate interests. “What I see is that the Democratic Party takes working class communities for granted,” she said in a recent interview, “they take people of color for granted and they just assume that we’re going to turn out no matter how bland or half-stepping these proposals are.”
Her platform was in many ways a review of the Bernie Sanders standards: restoring Glass Steagall, making public universities tuition free, ending private prisons, and replacing corporate financing with public funding in elections.
Of Crowley himself, she argued that his decision to send his children to an out-of-district school was indicative of his attitude towards the community.
Just two days before the New York City election, a New York Times piece predicted that the Sanders camp would flounder at polls across the country. Ocasio-Cortez’s win is the most visible in a series of primary, state primary, and gubernatorial upsets that fly in the face of similar election season predictions for Democrats. With Sanders’ backing, Former head of the NAACP Ben Jealous and Representative Jared Polis won progressive victories in the gubernatorial races in Maryland and Colorado. In Pennsylvania, four DSA-backed candidates won Democratic primaries for the State House of Representatives.
On his twitter, Sanders issued his congratulations to the candidates, who are seen to represent the snowballing influence of his presidential bid. Trump, too, took to twitter on Thursday night after Ocasio-Cortez’s win, bemused by the downfall of an establishment Democrat who he described as a “Big Trump Hater”: “Perhaps he should have been nicer, and more respectful, to his President.”
In an interview the next morning, Ocasio-Cortez urged lawmakers to resist personal disputes with the president, and focus instead on creating a consolidated, policy-based opposition: “Getting into twitter fights with the president is not exactly I think where we’re going to find progress as a nation.”