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Ocasio-Cortez stuns political world with primary upset

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (l.) celebrates her victory over Joseph Crowley with Cynthia Nixon Tuesday night in the Bronx.
Photo by Mark Hallum
By Alex Mitchell

“It’s time to put the working class first” was Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s message to Washington after pulling off one of the biggest political upsets in history.

Ocasio-Cortez, a 28-year-old neophyte aligned with the progressive Democratic Socialists of America, took down 10-term incumbent Joseph Crowley in a primary day romp to become the next Democratic Party candidate to run for the 14th Congressional seat in November’s general election. She rolled up 15,897 votes to 11,761 for Crowley in the district, which straddles Queens and the Bronx.

When she first learned that the race was called in her favor, she let out a gasp heard around the political world.

“Every person out here changed America tonight,” she said while standing atop a barstool in the crowded Bronx pool hall that hosted her election watch party. “This victory tonight belongs to every person in this room.”

While only 13 percent of the registered Democratic Party voters cast ballots, Ocasio-Cortez won both the Bronx, which accounts for 36 percent of the district, and the Queens portion.

A Bronx community organizer and veteran of Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign, Ocasio-Cortezshe demolished the man everyone was touting as the next speaker of the House in his home borough, where he is also the Democratic Party machine leader.

The insurgent’s campaign that started with clipboards in plastic bags overcame being outspent 18 to one per vote from the establishment-based Crowley, who raised $1.485,633 for the race, according to Ballotpedia. Ocasio-Cortez brought in $39,024.

“It’s no secret he’s very well financed,” Ocasio-Cortez said days before her first primary election. “But people don’t know him, especially the Bronx, so we aren’t scared of big money because we have big people.”

Without the funds available to take out major ads like Crowley, the Parkchester native turned to social media.

She ended up running a cost-efficient, savvy social media campaign that went viral, catching the attention of both her district and the nation.

Ocasio-Cortez has lived a humble life. Her father died during the Great Recession that began in 2008, so it was up to her and her mother to find ways to get by.

“I had to bartend, I had to wait tables, I know what it’s like to be a working class New Yorker,” Ocasio-Cortez said as she criticized Crowley for not even living within his district any more. “I grew up uninterested in politics, I thought it was just a local political machine.”

She graduated from Boston University with a degree in economics and international relations and worked in U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy’s (D-Mass.) office.

“Now we’re going to organize the community. We will have town halls, focus on housing improvement, stop foreclosures, rent increases and forced rezoning,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “We can’t wash our hands of these local issues, it’s time we bring the fight home.”

While Ocasio-Cortez and her crew were celebrating her dramatic victory Tuesday, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon came to congratulate her win.

“I think she’s an amazing human, I think she’s run an amazing race. She shows that when you oppose the status quo even when it seems like a mountain, what matters in the end is how you speak to voters and that they can put their trust in you,” Nixon said. “It makes me feel doubly excited for my own campaign and makes me excited for New York and the United States that we have so many progressive women running for office and being embraced.”

Her platform included the abolishment of ICE, Medicare expansion, free tuition and immigration reform.

Come this November, Ocasio-Cortez will face GOP candidate Anthony Pappas in the general election in hopes of completing one of the most unexpected political upsets in recent American history.

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