By Mark Hallum
Latina women running for office in Queens have been inspired by the stunning victory of newcomer Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez over 10-term veteran U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights) in Tuesday’s primary with all its national implications
Crowley, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus and the fourth most powerful Democrat in the Congress, was unseated by the 28-year-old grassroots activist from the Bronx who was waiting tables just eight months prior to her victory. He was considered a likely contender for speaker of the House if the Democrats wrested control in November.
With 98 percent of the precincts counted, Ocasio-Cortez commanded 57.5 percent of the vote to 42.5 percent for Crowley in his district, which covers western Queens and the Bronx, according to unofficial results from NY1.
Jessica Ramos, who is challenging state Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst) in the Sept. 13 state primary, called Crowley’s defeat “a resounding victory for progressive women in Queens.”
“To incumbent Democrats who put wealthy donors over working families: You are on officially on notice,” Ramos said. “From Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to Dana Balter to Liuba Grechen Shirley, progressive women triumphed because New Yorkers want unapologetic leaders who stand up for working families—not the Democratic establishment. Here in Queens, working families are losing affordable housing, our subway system is broken, and students attend overcrowded and underfunded schools… Enough is enough. Queens’ voters made their voices heard last night: It’s time to clean house.”
Crowley, who is chairman of the Queen Democratic Party organization, followed through on his promise on the campaign trail to back Ocasio in the general election against Republican Anthony Pappas, a St. John’s University professor, if he lost the primary.
“It has been the honor of a lifetime to represent Queens and the Bronx. I am proud of the race we ran and, more importantly, proud of all of the work we’ve done to advance this community,” Crowley said. “The Trump administration is a threat to everything we stand for here in Queens and the Bronx, and if we don’t win back the House this November, we will lose the nation we love. This is why we must come together. We will only be able to stop Donald Trump and the Republican Congress by working together as a united Democratic Party.”
Ocasio-Cortez’s victory Party at Park Billiards and Cafe in the Bronx was crammed with supporters, including Cynthia Nixon who is challenging Gov. Andrew Cuomo as a Democrat.
Ocasio-Cortez declined to comment at her victory party and the campaign has not returned media inquiries.
In contrast, the atmosphere at Crowley’s party at The Queensboro Restaurant in Jackson Heights was tense as the numbers rolled in, with elected officials from across Queens restlessly shuffling in and out of building. Once the results were called in Ocasio-Cortez’s favor, he performed a cover of “Born to Run” by Bruce Springsteen on guitar, dedicated to Ocasio-Cortez.
Catelina Cruz is an attorney who is one of three Latina candidates running for the state Assembly seat recently vacated by city Councilman Francisco Moya (D-Jackson Heights) when he switched positions in 2017. Assemblywoman Ari Espinal (D-Jackson Heights) won the seat in an April special election and is fighting to keep the seat against Cruz and Yonel Letellier Sosa.
“I want to congratulate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on her successful campaign, built on grassroots energy and a people-centric platform. I also want to thank Joe Crowley for his decades of dedicated service to our community,” Cruz said.
U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica) spoke well of his colleague in Congress, saying he had contributed to making housing more affordable. Ocasio-Cortez had claimed Crowley was a force behind gentrification, having alleged financial interests with luxury real estate developers.
“As a representative of a neighboring district, I’ve had the opportunity to know Joe Crowley as a champion for American families in both D.C. and at home in Queens, New York,” Meeks said. “Chairman Crowley has faithfully served his country and constituents with conviction, always working to address the issues facing everyday Americans, like making housing more affordable and fixing our health care system, or making it easier to raise a family. He has stood alongside minorities in the fight against discrimination, with immigrants against this administration, and with workers fighting for fair-wages.”
Crowley’s unexpected defeat set off a scramble among possible House contenders for the speaker’s post and the leadership of the Democratic Caucus. President Trump sent a Tweet gloating over Crowley’s demise since the Queens lawmaker had been among his fiercest critics.
“Wow! Big Trump Hater Congressman Joe Crowley, who many expected was going to take Nancy Pelosi’s place, just LOST his primary election. In other words, he’s out! That is a big one that nobody saw happening. Perhaps he should have been nicer, and more respectful, to his President!” Trump wrote.
Crowley was eclipsed by Ocasio-Cortez in his western Queens neighborhoods, where he got 8,220 votes to her 11,804 votes. In the Bronx, Ocasio’s home turf, he counted 3,541 votes to her 4,093 votes.
The district has a large Hispanic population along with immigrants from many parts of the world.
Crowley received a sharp rebuke on the New York Times editorial page for skipping a June 18 debate in the Bronx with Ocasio-Cortez and sending a Hispanic woman surrogate in his stead.
A debate in Jackson Heights on June 21 saw the congressional candidates slug it out over community issues such as a controversial housing development on 82nd Street.
Ocasio-Cortez claimed Crowley had taken money from developers before passing a bill in 2015 that deregulated foreign investment in luxury real estate in the United States and claimed the median price of an apartment in Queens has risen 80 percent.
“The 82nd Street rezoning is wrong,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “Even if it does get constructed, it should be 100 percent affordable housing, but we also know that when we are presiding over these important issues in this community we should not be taking money from one side and pretending we are neutral.”
Crowley also accused Ocasio-Cortez of seeking support from disgraced pol Hiram Monserrate, who not only served prison time for stealing government funds but also brutally assaulted his girlfriend on video, checkbecause she appeared at an event for the East Elmhurst Corona Democrats club, which is led by Monserrate.
“That’s a lie. I have not sought his support,” Ocasio-Cortez responded. “I was at the only Latino Democratic Club in East Elmhurst and Corona. That’s where I was.”
Peralta, who attended Crowley’s victory party, offered words of support for Ocasio-Cortez.
“It has been a privilege to work with Congressman Joe Crowley over the years in Queens. He is a good friend and colleague and his voice in Congress will be missed,” Peralta said. “I would like to congratulate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and as we move forward I am confident that she will be a strong advocate for her future constituents in Queens and The Bronx. I look forward to working together with her.”
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall