Progressive newcomer targets Queens’ Joseph Crowley as symbol of ‘old-school’ machine politics

To take back control of Congress, Democrats have to be “bold,” not middle-of-the-road, says Bronx native Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who’s challenging the fourth highest-ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives in the June 26 primary election.

Ocasio-Cortez, 28, is the first person to challenge Rep. Joseph Crowley in a primary race in 14 years. She’s also the first woman of color to ever run in New York’s District 14, which covers parts of southern Bronx and northern Queens.

“I don’t think we win by backing down. I don’t think we win by fading into the background,” Ocasio-Cortez told amNewYork, rejecting the idea that moderate Democrats have a better chance against Republicans in the midterm elections.

A former campaign organizer for then-presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, Ocasio-Cortez advocates for some of the same policy initiatives as the Vermont senator, including Medicare-for-all, free public higher education and a federal jobs guarantee that would promise jobs with a $15 minimum wage and paid family leave. She also says her campaign doesn’t take money from political action committees that accept donations from corporations.

Born into a working-class Puerto Rican family, Ocasio-Cortez says she understands the challenges working New Yorkers face. Her mother was a housekeeper, and her father owned a small business. She went to public school upstate and attended Boston University, but she returned to the Bronx after graduating and now lives in Parkchester.

She is a harsh critic of Crowley, a Woodside native who has represented Queens and the Bronx in Congress since 1998, and denounces his influence on area politics because of his role as chair of the Queens County Democratic Party.

“This Tammany Hall system of political machines actually disenfranchises communities because this old-school system of politics exists to prop up the already powerful,” she said.

But Crowley’s campaign argues that his influence has helped elect progressive Democrats, including fellow Rep. Grace Meng, who he endorsed over his cousin, Elizabeth Crowley. Recently, his support helped secure Corey Johnson as City Council speaker.

Crowley’s platform includes some of the same stances as Ocasio-Cortez. He became a co-sponsor of a Medicare-for-all bill last year and supports a $15 minimum wage. When asked recently about Sanders’ federal jobs guarantee proposal, Crowley said he wouldn’t “dismiss out of hand anything Bernie Sanders suggests,” but that he needed to look into it.

With endorsements from two dozen labor unions and other local groups, Crowley’s campaign says it isn’t concerned about the primary election. “The people of Queens and the Bronx have elected Joe Crowley to represent them in Congress by an overwhelming majority each and every time his name has appeared on the ballot,” Crowley for Congress campaign manager Vijay Chaudhuri said in a statement. “This year will be no different.”

But Ocasio-Cortez isn’t backing down from her uphill battle, and she wants other outsiders to make their own runs for office.

“If you’re thinking about running for office, no matter who you are or where you come from, don’t ask for permission and just do it,” she said.