Can a 28-year-old democratic socialist pull off one of the rarest feats in U.S. politics: beating an entrenched incumbent in a Democratic Party primary?
Congressperson Joe Crowley, D-N.Y., now seeking his 10th term, has been in the U.S. House of Representatives since 1999. It has been 14 years since Crowley has faced a primary challenge, which means he’s received the Democratic Party nomination automatically every two years since 2004.
During that time, Crowley has risen to the top ranks of the party’s House leadership, becoming chair of the House Democratic Caucus, and has simultaneously consolidated his ironclad control over the Queens Democratic Party machine through increasing amounts of corporate donors, as well as his position as chair of the Queens Democratic Party.
This power has earned him the name “king of Queens,” and he has become the classic New York machine boss, having obtained both his 1990s seat on the New York City Council and his seat in Congress through a combination of dynastic politics and machine favors. But for the people of the 14th Congressional District that Crowley represents — which covers parts of Queens and the Bronx and is 70 percent nonwhite — it means they have had no Democratic Party alternative in this Democratic safe district for more than a decade.
All of that changed this year as a result of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, whose primary challenge against Crowley has sparked substantial excitement within her district and then media attention throughout the country. The 28-year-old educator, organizer for Bernie Sanders, and self-described democratic socialist of Puerto Rican heritage produced a video about her life and the reasons she’s running that went massively viral.
Unseating an entrenched congressional incumbent is one of the hardest and rarest feats in U.S. politics — especially an incumbent with the funding and stature of Crowley. But Ocasio-Cortez’s blunt and defiant style — see, for example, her reaction to last night’s endorsement of Crowley by New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, as well as her stunningly unflinching denunciation of Israeli violence against unarmed Gazans last month — combined with the obvious seriousness she brings to political organizing, has made many believe that she can pose a genuine threat to Crowley’s seat.
I interviewed Ocasio-Cortez about a wide range of topics, including the need for Democratic Party reform, her views on immigration and criminal justice reform, her approach to “identity politics,” why she has taken such unusually blunt positions on Israel and Palestine, and the challenges of running against a machine boss politician. The 30-minute discussion can be viewed above.