Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez remembered a phone call from members of Brand New Congress and the Justice Democrats, political action committees seeking to reform the Democratic Party, asking if she would like to run as a candidate in the 14th Congressional District in New York City.
Ocasio-Cortez had no experience running as a candidate, only working for other campaigns such as for U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vermont). Moreover, the district, which represents parts of the Bronx and Queens, is currently represented by U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Queens, Bronx), who has not been challenged in a Democratic primary since 2004. As a result, her answer to the call was simple—yes.
“This is not about changing the congressional representative of New York’s 14,” she said. “This is about changing the guard of New York and Queens.”
Ocasio-Cortez talked to some of her supporters, nearly 30 in total, at a campaign fundraiser Wednesday at Raven’s Head Public House, a bar and restaurant in Astoria. With a large TV showing a basketball game behind her, the primary candidate acknowledged she is waging a campaign against one of the most powerful figures in New York politics.
“Our representatives do not represent us. Most elected officials here are elected through a machine that is largely undemocratic,” she said.
The Bronx native split her time between the borough and living upstate for financial reasons. She used this as a reason to ensure changes to a district that is “profoundly working class.”
“It is fundamentally wrong that a zip code determines a child’s destiny,” she said.
The 14th Congressional District is nearly 50 percent, or around 344,000, Hispanic, according to the 2016 American Community Survey. In addition, roughly 46 percent, or about 317,000, of residents in the area are foreign-born. Ocasio-Cortez, born to Puerto Rican parents, highlighted there was more diverse to the diverse from income to the neighborhoods.
Yet, as Ocasio-Cortez noted, the Democrats leading the district and beyond do not represent the working-class identity of the residents. Some officials take money from corporations and firms profiting off the expense of local people. Ocasio-Cortez used this as an example as why she refuses to take contributions from large businesses and industries.
“We are working-class people. That is the people that deserve to be represented in this district. Not Wall Street,” she said.
Before her speech, she invited a few people to speak about her campaign along with issues affecting them in the district. Andres Bernal, a professor at CUNY Queens College, talked about “a sense of urgency” across the country with health care and housing as two examples of growing problems. That’s why he is supporting her campaign, which he believed reflected a larger movement.
“The only way any of this can get addressed is if we come together and form our own infrastructure,” he said.
The Democratic primary for the 14th Congressional District will end in June 2018. In the meantime, Ocasio-Cortez anticipates a long campaign in both the Bronx and Queens and a possible upset victory against Crowley.
“We [can] talk about David versus Goliath,” she said. “In the end, David wins.”