By Mark Hallum
In a momentous upset with national implications, U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights) has been unseated by Bronx resident Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a grassroots candidate who ran against the two-decade incumbent on issues of affordable housing and local business.
Ocasio-Cortez secured the stunning victory with 57.8 percent of the votes — compared to Crowley’s 42.2 percent — with 94 percent of the precincts reporting, according to unofficial results from NY1.
She goes on to face Republican challenger Anthony Pappas, a St. John’s University professor, in the general election.
As the fourth most powerful Democrat in Congress, Crowley was in the running to become speaker of the House if the Democrats managed to take the majority in the November elections. This was the first time in 14 years he had faced a challenger for his House seat. Crowley, who is head of the Queens Democratic Party, has been a staunch critic of President Trump and a outspoken voice defending immigrants.
Ocasio-Cortez, who is 28 and a first-time candidate, hopes to use her office to make the district more affordable by rejecting the interests of real estate developers and bringing single payer healthcare to her constituents.
“I cannot put this into words. I cannot believe these numbers. Every single person here has worked their butt off. This victory belongs to every single grassroots organizer, working mom, every member of the LGBTQ community is responsible for this,” Ocasio-Cortez said in an interview on NY1 from the Bronx. “We meet a machine with a movement. It’s surreal, I did not see these numbers until I walked in. I’m still processing a lot of this.”
She added, “Working class Americans want a champion and there is nothing radical about moral clarity in 2018.”
Crowley addressed the shocking defeat after the election was called.
“If we don’t win back the House, we will lose the nation that we love. I respect your energy and I cherish your friendship and support. It’s not about me… it’s about America,” he said. “I wish nothing but the best for Ms. Ocasio-Cortez. I want her to be victorious in the November elections.”
A June 21 debate in Jackson Heights saw the congressional candidates slug it out over community issues such as a controversial housing development on 82nd Street and the debate over the gun issue. Crowley had previously declined to participate in an earlier debate and drew sharp criticism on the New York Times editorial page for sending a Latina surrogate in his place.
Crowley falsely said during the first NY1 debate that he backed the proposal to build not 10 stories, but 13 stories of housing at the 82nd Street project because Community Board 4 voted in favor of ULERP application for more housing.
In reality, CB 4 had voted in March almost unanimously against the proposal which later received a recommendation for approval from Borough President Melinda Katz.
“I misspoke when I said the community board voted in favor of it,” Crowley said. “The reality — as I look at it — is that the building itself could be built as of right for the use of the Target… Queens is changing all the time, we need to make sure that the change is being done in a way that meets the needs of our community and our citizenry.”
Ocasio-Cortez’s response 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, because 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.”
While Ocasio-Cortez championed a federal ban on assault weapons and requiring licenses and age restrictions, she said New York City gun laws are not compatible with states like Nebraska, where firearm ownership may be more necessary for maintaining one’s livelihood through hunting and ranching.
Crowley argued that a full ban on firearms would be the only solution to stopping mass shootings and preventing guns from making their way onto the streets of New York, where he claimed 74 percent of guns in the city are purchased legally in more lenient states before being sold in more restrictive cities.
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall