He was the “King-of-Queens” New York, a congressman both respected and feared. She was a Bernie Sanders 2016 volunteer. He ruled his fiefdom for years unchallenged as chairman of the Queens Democratic Party’s organization. She worked as a bartender. He parlayed his Wall Street fund-raising prowess into contributions for other House members – then in 2016, he won a narrow victory (98 to 96) becoming the House Democratic Caucus chairman – the fourth highest ranked House Democrat. As recently as April, Politico Magazine considered him the top young contender in its “Queens’ Party Boss Angles to Succeed Pelosi as Speaker” coverage.
It was a goal too far. Congressman Joe Crowley’s House of Cards came tumbling down when a progressive 28-year-old woman, former Bernie Sanders organizer and Boston College economics graduate, defeated him last month in New York’s 14th Congressional District Democratic primary.
It wasn’t even close. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez won by 15 percentage points. She beat one of the nation’s last machine politicians and shocked America’s Main Street Media and Washington, D.C.’s elite. But you wouldn’t know it by listening to Democratic minority leader, Nancy Pelosi.
At a news conference the day after the election, The Hill reported Pelosi was dissing Crowley’s loss by relating it to a single congressional district: “The fact that in a very progressive district in New York it went more progressive … [it] is about that district,” Pelosi declared. “It is not to be viewed as something that stands for anything else.”
The second-ranking House Democrat, Maryland Congressman Steny Hoyer, issued a bland press release thanking both the loser and the winner, while the Washington Post reported the third-ranking Democrat, South Carolina Congressman James E. Clyburn, responded with “stuff happens” and characterized the net effect on these Democratic House Leaders as “One Giant Shrug.”
“Stuff happens,” even though Crowley raised over $3 million and outspent his progressive challenger by 10-to-1. “Stuff happens” even though New York’s major newspapers never covered or mentioned Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s May 16, 2017, announcement for Congress. No media coverage mentioning Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in any New York Times articles of any kind until more than a year after her May 2017 campaign announcement.
And then, Ocasio-Cortez’s first New York Times campaign coverage was only a couple sentences opening up a May 29 article about “insurgent” women running for office and “bucking the careful and cautious ways of politics.”
“I feel like I’ve been pulling punches,” the New York Times reports Ms. Ocasio-Cortez writing in a private message chain sent to other upstart female congressional candidates. “Do you ever get any pushback from voters or those who don’t want party infighting?” Ms. Ocasio-Cortez frankly tells Times reporters: “We’re not trying to ask permission to get in the door.” That’s the first and last time Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is mentioned in this 1,745-word article.
Less than a month later, she defeats New York City’s most powerful House powerbroker without ever earning coverage in America’s number-one liberal newspaper.
“Ocasio-Cortez’s emergence is a huge story – one the Trump-obsessed media establishment largely missed,” reported Katrina vanden Heuvel in the Washington Post. “Outside of outlets on the progressive left such as Intercept and the Nation, most mainstream news coverage ignored or dismissed Ocasio-Cortez until voters in her district forced them to pay attention.”
After her stunning upset victory, it was a different story.
The day after her election, Ocasio-Cortez appears on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” When asked about her campaign focus, she responds: “Our campaign was focused, a laser-like focused message of economic, social and racial dignity for working-class Americans, especially those in Queens and the Bronx. We were very clear about our message, very clear about our priorities, and very clear about the fact that even if you have never voted before, we are talking to you.”
MSNBC “Morning Joe” host, Willie Geist, noticed that she avoided taking on President Trump directly with personal attacks during her campaign. Ocasio-Cortez rarely mentioned Trump. “Right, Right, I think that’s really the path forward,” Ocasio-Cortez responded. “What we need to do is lay out a plan and a vision that people can believe in and getting into Twitter fights with the president is not the way forward.”
Now that’s a new, refreshing idea. Sincere congratulations to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Bill Edley of Springfield is a 36-year Democratic Party activist, former Illinois Democratic Party state representative, Illinois Democratic National Convention delegate and Bernie 2016 field organizer. He earned a master’s degree in economic history from the London School of Economics and Political Science in 2012. Contact him at BillEdley@gmail.com.