Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: Who is the 28-year-old socialist hailed as the 'future of the Democratic Party'?

Bronx native pulls off shock primary election victory against 10-term House incumbent Joe Crowley

Tom Embury-Dennis
Monday 15 October 2018 15:39 BST
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez defeats fellow Democrat Joe Crowley in New York primary elections

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a millennial activist from the Bronx, has stunned the Democratic Party after beating 10-term incumbent Joe Crowley in a New York congressional primary.

In one of the biggest upsets in modern American political history, Ms Ocasio-Cortez gained almost 60 per cent of the vote in the diverse 14th congressional district, which takes in parts of Queens and the Bronx.

Her victory, against a man who raised more funds than her by a margin of 10-1, has sent shockwaves through the Democratic establishment, which is being forced to confront its own internal divisions ahead of the midterm elections in November.

But who is Ms Ocasio-Cortez? Here is all you need to know.

How did Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez get here?

Ms Ocasio-Cortez, 28, was born in New York to a father from the Bronx and a mother from Puerto Rico. Due to a perceived lack of good schools in the area, she was sent to one in the wealthier area of Yorktown, Westchester County.

In 2011, she graduated from Boston University with a degree in economics and international relations, before moving back to the Bronx and working as a waitress and bartender to help supplement her mother’s income as a cleaner and bus driver, according to The Intercept. Her father had died of a heart attack three years earlier.

Under the threat of foreclosure, her mother and grandmother were forced to sell the family home and move to Florida. The same year, 2016, Ms Ocasio-Cortez began campaigning for Bernie Sanders’ insurgent campaign to win the Democratic presidential nomination, which he ultimately lost to Hillary Clinton.

Despite still paying off her student debts – and until recently working in a restaurant – she launched her challenge to Mr Crowley last year, receiving the endorsement of a range of left-wing groups, including Our Revolution, Democracy for America and the New York City Democratic Socialists of America.

Now the Democratic nominee in the 14th, following her win, she faces the Republican candidate Anthony Pappas in November’s midterm elections. If she wins – in what is a traditionally Democratic district – she will be the youngest-ever woman elected to Congress.

What are her policies?

Ms Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign focused on universal healthcare; a promise of jobs for every American, known as a federal jobs guarantee, and the abolition of the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE), which has been held responsible for much of Donald Trump’s criticised deportation programme.

Just days before the election, she made a surprise visit to the Mexico border to protest outside an ICE detention centre in Texas.

“We have families and communities here (in the 14th) from Ecuador and Colombia, Bangladesh, Korea, Pakistan, and I see them every day, many of them are very scared about what’s going on,” she said. “With my campaign, in terms of immigration, we’re trying to say, ‘Hey, we’ve got your back’.”

She is also pushing for increased policing of luxury real estate development, protections for undocumented immigrant children, and campaign finance reform. She refused corporate donations.

Is she a socialist?

Ms Ocasio-Cortez is a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, an organisation which has backed hers and dozens of other left-wing candidates running on progressive platforms.

Speaking to Vogue, she described socialism as: “The democratic participation in our economic dignity, and our economic, social, and racial dignity.”

“It is about direct representation and people actually having power and stake over their economic and social wellness, at the end of the day,” she said. “To me, what socialism means is to guarantee a basic level of dignity.

“It’s asserting the value of saying that the America we want and the America that we are proud of is one in which all children can access a dignified education.

“It’s one in which no person is too poor to have the medicines they need to live. It’s to say that no individual’s civil rights are to be violated.”

How did she win?

Ms Ocasio-Cortez ran a grassroots campaign, effectively using social media to cast herself as a representative of the people, and Mr Crowley as one of the wealthy elite with close ties to the financial industry.

In a widely-praised campaign video, viewed millions of times online, she summarised why she was running for Congress. “This race is about people versus money – we’ve got people, they’ve got money,” she said.

She successfully attacked Mr Crowley for taking corporate money, for not living in the district, and for not reflecting the area’s increasingly diverse communities.

A potential turning point came when Mr Crowley dodged a debate with Ms Ocasio-Cortez just days before the election, with a Latina councilwoman standing in for him.

Ms Ocasio-Cortez pointedly accused Mr Crowley of sending a “woman with slight resemblance to me as his official surrogate to last night’s debate”.

The New York Times editorial board criticised his no-show, and warned against taking his constituents for granted. It turned out they were right.

What she said about her win

“This is not an end, this is the beginning. This is the beginning because the message that we sent the world tonight is that it’s not OK to put donors before your community,” Ms Ocasio-Cortez told supporters on Tuesday night.

She continued: “You have given this country hope, you have given this country proof that when you knock on your neighbour’s door, when you come to them with love, when you let them know that no matter your stance, you are there for them – that we can make change.”

What do people say about her?

Following her victory on Tuesday evening, Mr Sanders said: “She took on the entire local Democratic establishment in her district and won a very strong victory. She demonstrated once again what progressive grassroots politics can do.”

Cynthia Nixon, the former Sex and the City star running for New York governor, described Ms Ocasio-Cortez as the “future of the Democratic Party”.

“Alexandria and I are joining together to take on the old boys club, rejecting corporate money and run people-powered campaigns that envision a progressive New York that serves the many, not just the few who can afford to buy influence,” she said.

Mr Crowley on Tuesday night congratulated his rival on her victory, and promised to support her this November. In a statement, he warned the US could “lose the nation we love” if Ms Ocasio-Cortez and other Democrat nominees failed to win back the House from Republicans.

US president Donald Trump, addressing the local election, bizarrely took credit for Ms Ocasio-Cortez’s victory.

“Big Trump Hater Congressman Joe Crowley, who many expected was going to take Nancy Pelosi’s place, just LOST his primary election,” he wrote on Twitter. “In other words, he’s out! That is a big one that nobody saw happening. Perhaps he should have been nicer, and more respectful, to his President!”

Mr Trump may be shocked to learn the probable next incumbent of Mr Crowley’s seat is unlikely to offer a more positive commentary on the actions his administration.

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