BY JON CRONIN
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a 28-year-old born-and-bred Bronx resident, said that she is taking on the Queens Machine by running against U.S. Rep Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights), a 10-term incumbent.
Ocasio-Cortez, who recently sat down with the Queens Tribune to discuss her candidacy, is currently petitioning to get on the ballot, and said that she expects Crowley to challenge her signatures. She noted that she is attempting to get thousands more signatures than the required number.
This will be the first time in 14 years that Crowley, who is the leader of the Queens Democratic Party, has seen a primary challenger—and this is one of the reasons that Ocasio-Cortez is running. She said that she was working with the protestors in Standing Rock, South Dakota, in December 2016 when Brand New Congress, a political action committee that recruits people to challenge career politicians, asked her if she would be interested in running for Congress.
Despite only being 28 years old, Ocasio-Cortez has been an activist and community organizer for years. While in school at Boston University seven years ago, she worked in former U.S. Rep. Ted Kennedy’s constituent-services office, and has aided in organizing a Bernie Sanders rally in the Bronx.
She didn’t grow up in a political family. Her mother is from Puerto Rico and her father hails from the Bronx. When Ocasio-Cortez was growing up in the early 1990s, she said that her parents were disappointed with the public schools in the Bronx and had no money for a private school. After her extended family chipped in, her parents were able to put a down payment on a small home in Yorktown.
However, her father still owned a small business in the Bronx and her entire family was there. Ocasio-Cortez said that visiting the Bronx and living in Yorktown taught her about income inequality.
“Even at a really young age, I saw what my schools had and what my family in the Bronx had,” she said. “The idea of inequity became apparent to us, even as children.”
While attending Boston University, she initially began as a pre-med student, but eventually became interested in public health policy.
“The Bronx has some of the highest rates of child asthma in the country,” she said. “We have very high maternal mortality rates.”
She added that right before she graduated from college, Citizens United won its case in the Supreme Court. At the time, she said she believed that getting involved in politics required a connection to “dynastic power or incredible wealth and social connections and, as a girl from the Bronx, I had none of those things.”
Ocasio-Cortez returned to the Bronx and worked on early childhood education projects and then became an educational director for the National Hispanic Institute. But soon afterward, devastation struck her family. The recession took a toll on her family and her father died of cancer. Ocasio-Cortez had to take up waitressing and bartending jobs on top of her nonprofit work. She and her mother were able to save the family’s home from foreclosure.
Ocasio-Cortez said that she is looking to identify with the working-class and immigrant community in the 14th Congressional District. She pointed out that 70 percent of the district are people of color and 40 percent are Spanish- speaking. She noted that in the Throgs Neck area of Queens, home foreclosures are up 140 percent.
While canvassing last year, Ocasio-Cortez noted that local elected officials “chewed [her] out” for challenging Crowley in the primary. She said she feels optimistic in her bid, and noted that her campaign has more than 6,000 contributions with an average donation of $15. She added that she would not take donations from corporations.
Ocasio-Cortez believes that since Crowley has not often had a challenger and the district, she claims, has low voter turnout, she can defeat him with a well-organized grassroots campaign.
Reach Jon Cronin at 718-357-7400 x125, firstname.lastname@example.org or @JonathanSCronin