A young man from Westchester sails the seas, slowly but determinate in rising the deck officer ranks. His high school classmate is a news-garnering Congresswoman representing Queens, New York.
If there was a congressional district that resembled the neglect of “plantation politics”, the 14th district of New York, located in the borough of Queens, is a sure bet. Much attention is paid to the competitive congressional races in the suburbs of Long Island and Staten Island. Names of White-Ethnic pols like Max Rose, Dan Donovan, Anthony Wiener, Peter King, and Lee Zeldin permeate the national airwaves. But politically speaking, vast swaths of low-rise, diverse urban neighborhoods go unheard. This is flyover country in New York; elevated subway lines and commuter trains from the economic behemoth of Lower Manhattan squeak brake dust as they speed through the street life of immigrant and low-income Queens, en-route to the suburbs.
It was here that Joe Crowley, a Queens Democratic Machine insider, was elected every two years to Congress without facing a serious primary challenge. In this district and many other inner cities, the general election is a “mole hill”, to quote the 2014 words of failed Maryland gubernatorial candidate Lt Gov. Anthony Brown. That “mole hill” is surmounting nominal Republican and independent challengers in the November elections.
Crowley, a politically run-of-the-mill Democrat without clear convictions, harvested votes that afforded him and his family a comfortable life in Northern Virginia. He and his family rarely spend time in the New York neighborhoods which he was elected to represent.
His district was low-hanging fruit ready for disruption. A young women with a Twitter account ended Western Queens’ political malaise. Her name is Alexandra Occasio-Cortez, or AOC for short, raised in the high-expectations suburbs of Westchester. According to my shipmate, Westchester was a cauldron of high performers, who’d use their talents and guts to forge a path in the world. He became a merchant ship’s officer, she moved to inner-city Queens to become a waitress.
Though politically immature, AOC was able to see opportunity. Parts of the 14th district had become gentrified by upwardly mobile, mostly White newcomers. It was in this economically privileged (though student-debt-laden) sphere that hyper-progressive AOC secured her majority in the 2018 democratic primary.
Under New York law, Crowley’s name still appeared on the general election ballot under the Working People Party line. He had cruised for decades under the precept that disengaged voters would instinctively “vote for the democrat”. Running on the Democratic line, Joe Crowley regularly secured 40-point victories against the opposition parties. But Joe Crowley had no brand; and this was not nearby Connecticut where Senator Joe Lieberman avenged a primary loss by running, and being elected as, an independent. Joe Crowley decided not to campaign, and on election night, he garnered a mere 7% of the vote, despite his decades in office and his name still appearing on the ballot. This was not a story of progressive versus moderate, but a question of passion and attention to the voters.
“My crazy classmate”, utters our merchant ship officer from the helm.