BY JASON COHEN
The gloves were off Monday night as the candidates for the NY-14 Congressional District squared off in their first debate prior to the June 23 primary.
Interestingly enough, the Bronx Times spoke with the campaign for Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Monday morning and was given no notice of the upcoming debate.
The event, hosted by BronxNet TV, featured Ocasio-Cortez, Michelle Caruso-Cabrera and Bardun Khan. Sam Sloan, who had technical difficulties, could not be heard.
Throughout the hour, Caruso-Cabrera unleashed venom at Ocasio-Cortez and did not hold back. In the past week she had accused Ocasio-Cortez of not wanting to hold a debate and now she had her chance.
Caruso-Cabrera said she values the Democratic Party and is the daughter and granddaughter of immigrants. She described her how her family worked overnight shifts and her father was one of the first to go to college.
“I want to help the people in Queens and the Bronx achieve the same American dream that my parent and grandparents did when they came to this country,” she said. “Why is AOC always [missing in action]?”
Caruso-Cabrera questioned where Ocasio-Cortez has been during the pandemic and accused the incumbent congresswoman of being more concerned with TV appearances rather than being a Democrat.
The congresswoman responded by saying that she fights for 21st-century economics, believes health care is a human right and supports a living wage.
She emphasized that she knew the value of hard work since she was a waitress before being elected to office.
“I’m proud to say that I’m a present member of Congress,” she said.
She noted that she was in her apartment in Washington, D.C., for a week at the onset of COVID-19 because she did not feel well. Otherwise, she said that she has been in the Bronx raising near half a million dollars for relief and handing out food and supplies.
During the debate, Caruso-Cabrera said that Bronxites currently struggle to find jobs, which could have been easier if Ocasio-Cortez hadn’t killed Amazon’s arrival to New York City. The challenger said that Amazon would have brought thousands of jobs to the city, aiding unemployed New Yorkers.
She also noted how Ocasio-Cortez was the only Democrat who did not vote for the Paycheck Protection Program and questioned how the congresswoman was not in support of a bill that would help people during the coronavirus crisis.
“My opponent AOC voted against the stimulus bill,” she said. “You’re always working on your celebrity status. No bill is ever perfect. You devise and you work against the party.”
She also noted that Ocasio-Cortez’s office is never open for constituents. The incumbent did not take these accusations lightly.
Ocasio-Cortez explained that these are unprecedented times in our country and many businesses will not reopen when life resumes.
According to the congresswoman, it is imperative to not give subsidies to big companies like Amazon and corrupt developers. Instead, she said the government should return to New Deal policies, direct investment in jobs, building new schools and clean air.
“Even if we snapped our fingers and reopened tomorrow, there are millions of jobs that aren’t coming back,” she said. “Quite frankly, we knew a crisis like this was coming.”
Addressing her decision to vote against the stimulus bill, AOC noted the legislation only helps the wealthy. In a borough of mainly immigrants, she could not justify something that would not help them.
“In a district that’s 50 percent immigrants, I will never leave our immigrant families behind,” Ocasio-Cortez commented. “Our district is one of the most progressive districts in America.”
Caruso-Cabrera continued her attack the congresswoman saying she couldn’t find her office and again claiming that she is “MIA.”
Ocasio-Cortez countered and said that she has a campaign and district office.
“I know Ms. Cabrera isn’t from the district so she may have trouble getting around,” Ocasio-Cortez said, adding that Caruso-Cabrera only recently moved here from her $15,000 Trump Tower apartment and probably has no idea where Sunnyside, Queens, is.
“I commit to our district,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “I’m running based on building our community up. She doesn’t care about the Bronx or Queens. Who are you and where have you lived?”
But Caruso-Cabrera struck back.
“I love Sunnyside, Queens, my opponent is the one nobody sees,” she said.
They discussed health care and immigration, but the debate was mostly a back and forth between the two candidates.
Ocasio-Cortez said that she wants Medicare for all, while Caruso-Cabrera did not believe that to be the answer. She stressed health insurance should not be taken from hardworking people who already have it.
Caruso-Cabrera called Ocasio-Cortez a democratic socialist and noted the Green New Deal would accomplish nothing.
She compared the incumbent to her processor Joe Crowley, who thought he was a man of the people in the Bronx, but like her, was a ghost.
“I’m proud to serve and be in this community for every day that I’m not in Washington,” Ocasio-Cortez said.
This story originally appeared on bxtimes.com.