Joe Crowley and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez spar over debates and campaign funding in Jackson Heights

Photo by Jenna Bagcal/QNS

It was a battle between experience and innovation at Thursday’s Congressional primary debate in Jackson Heights as the incumbent, Joe Crowley, squared off with civic activist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

The congressman from New York’s 14th District, which spans northwest Queens and parts of the Bronx, participated in his first primary debate in 14 years. The Jewish Center of Jackson Heights at 37-06 77th St. played host to the lively face-off.

One of the first questions asked of Crowley referenced a New York Times editorial published days earlier that admonished him for not showing up to a debate with Ocasio-Cortez in the Bronx on June 18.

“I appreciate the editorial, and I appreciate also the work that I’ve been doing to win back the support of my constituents here in Queens and in the Bronx as well,” the congressman said.

He explained that the debate on Monday and another the week before were not coordinated with his office, after he had already made prior commitments to “other entities within our district.” Both candidates did appear at a NY1 debate televised on June 15, but Crowley said that both he and Ocasio-Cortez agreed to participate in that one.

Ocasio-Cortez, however, labelled his June 18 no-show as an act of “neglect” and “absentee leadership.”

“The Bronx has been abandoned by its leadership for a very long time, and on Monday, that was a continuation of that neglect. What we saw from The New York Times was a public call out, and writing out to the entire city of New York that absentee leadership is not acceptable for our poor and working-class families. I’ve been there, and I will continue to be there as your next congresswoman,” Ocasio-Cortez said.

Concerns about Ocasio-Cortez’s lack of experience came up in a question from Make Queens Safer, one of the event’s sponsors. The organization questioned why constituents should vote for her, especially since the winner in this congressional race would possibly become speaker of the House if the Democrats win the House back.

“I’d like to oppose the idea that I have less experience than my opponent, in fact, I have more experience than anyone else in this race before seeking elected office. I have 10 years as an educational director, as a national organizer advancing the causes of social, economic and racial justice in the United States,” Ocasio-Cortez responded.

Throughout her campaign, Ocasio-Cortez made it a point not to accept money from big businesses, lobbyists or super PACs, which she has criticized Crowley for doing. During the debate, she brought up that Crowley’s “second-largest donor accepts money from corporations that profit off of immigrant detention centers.”

“Ms. Ocasio-Cortez is once again spreading inaccurate information. Joe is supported by the people of Queens and the Bronx, but the donor she mentions does not work with private immigration detention centers. It is absolutely wrong to suggest otherwise,” said Lauren French, a spokesperson for the congressman’s campaign.

Crowley rebutted that criticism by citing the work that he had done to “stand up to big banks and Wall Street.”

“I stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Barney Frank in passing Dodd-Frank. I was proud of my work and the effort that I gave,” Crowley said. “And when it came time to standing up against insurance companies and the pharma companies, I stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Barack Obama — 131,000 constituents in this district now have health care because of the work that I was involved in.”

On a national level, both Crowley and Ocasio-Cortez agreed that the recent issues on the U.S.-Mexico border is an “abomination,” as the congressman described.

“We need comprehensive immigration reform. But I also think the most important thing is to deal with the 11 million plus individuals — human beings, not animals — who are working here trying to contribute and become a part of the fabric of our nation,” Crowley said.

“We need to eliminate [ICE]. We need to get these kids back to their parents, and we also need to make sure that no state government follow the example of some of the municipalities in California, and ensure that no state government leases to immigrant detention centers with ICE. Period,” Ocasio-Cortez said.

On a local level, both candidates agreed that more must be done to improve public transportation in their district, particularly the trains. Crowley brought up the idea of investments at the federal level, comparable to the Marshall Plan, while Ocasio-Cortez mentioned that in addition to funding, more needs to be done to make the transportation system “greener” using 100 percent renewable energy.

Recently, Crowley along with other local leaders and the NYC Transit President announced that the MTA would begin long-awaited $45 million repairs to the 7 train, which include essential infrastructure repairs and repainting.

The primary elections take place on Tuesday, June 26, and the polls are open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Only registered Democrats can vote in Tuesday’s primary.

Correction made on Sunday at 10:24 a.m. to reflect comments about immigrant detention centers from Congressman Crowley’s office.