The third scheduled debate for the upcoming primary election for Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s congressional seat will go on as planned, the debate organizers said, despite two out of the four candidates having dropped out of the event, including the star of the show — the incumbent herself.
“We will only believe she is not coming after the debate,” said Sheikh Musa Drammeh, publisher of Parkchester Times, about Ocasio-Cortez’s absence. “This debate was promised for months. Constituents need to hear from candidates face to face.”
The debate, which is hosted by The Parkchester Times and scheduled for 7 p.m., tomorrow, June 17, is the only chance for the candidates in the 14th Congressional District primary to challenge each other in-person in this election cycle. The two previous debates were held virtually because of restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Over the weekend, incumbent Ocasio-Cortez (D- Astoria, College Point, Corona, East Elmhurst, Elmhurst, Jackson Heights, Woodside, parts of the Bronx) dropped out of the debate. Badrun Khan, one of her challengers in the primary, followed suit shortly after leaving former Republican and vocal critic of Ocasio-Cortez, Michelle Caruso-Cabrera, and perennial candidate Samuel Sloan, who has not participated in previous debates, as the only participants.
When asked why she dropped out of the debate, Ocasio Cortez’s campaign press secretary Ivet Contreras said that, as a campaign, they’d determined that two debates were enough. She said that instead, the representative is focusing on events out in the community and her weekly Facebook live event for her constituents, “Coffee and Conversation.”
“We’re putting more priority on that and just kind of engaging with constituents,” she said.
In an open letter dated June 14, Caruso-Cabrera called out Ocasio-Cortez for not participating in the debate.
“I can understand why you might be reluctant to debate me in person –– I raised a number of questions during the first two virtual debates that you probably didn’t want your constituents to hear,” she wrote.
A representative from her campaign said that they were waiting on a response to the open letter which was sent directly to Ocasio-Cortez to decide whether or not Caruso-Cabrera was going to participate on Wednesday.
Khan, on the other hand, dropped out because they decided only debating Caruso-Cabrera was not worth it, a spokesperson for Khan said.
“Debates are always helpful, but when an opponent has no policies and stands for nothing besides a slogan, and doesn’t acknowledge you, there isn’t much to debate.”
The spokesperson said that Caruso-Cabrera was a quasi-Republican who had ignored Khan for much of the election. She said that Caruso-Cabrera doesn’t seem to have any policies to debate but instead has focused her campaign on attacking Ocasio-Cortez. Khan wanted a real debate over policy, she said, which could happen if Rep. Ocasio-Cortez participated.
“She would have liked to really draw more of a contrast between her and AOC,” Khan’s spokesperson said. “She wanted to ask more questions, say more things.”
The representative from Caruso-Cabrera’s campaign did not respond to requests for comment on Khan’s spokesperson’s statement.
Caruso-Cabrera’s letter also voiced similar criticism that Ocasio-Cortez voiced herself in 2018 when then-incumbent Rep. Joseph Crowley sent a surrogate to the same debate.
Then-candidate Ocasio-Cortez criticized Crowley for skipping the 2018 debate. In a statement emailed to City and State at the time, Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign said “it was hard to deal with the shock and hurt felt by voters by the congressman’s absence,“ and that the Parkchester Community “has not felt Rep. Crowley’s presence in our community for years” last night was a continuation of that “neglect.”
Now, as the incumbent skipping the same debate two years later, Ocasio-Cortez faces similar criticisms from Caruso-Cabrera.
“I entreat you to reconsider and to show up at St. Helena’s Church on June 17th and debate me face-to-face. I understand you might be frightened. Your constituents are watching after all. Do you have the guts to show up, or will AOC continue to be M.I.A.?” Caruso Cabrera wrote.