NY-14 Upset Ignites Debate Over What Happened, Future of Democratic Leadership By Luke Perry
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez defeated Joseph Crowley for the Democratic nomination in NY-14, an unexpected and significant development. Crowley is the fourth ranking Democrat in the House, and was widely considered to be in contention for Speakership. He had not faced a primary challenge since 2004.
Ocasio is a 28 year old first time candidate, who previously organized for Bernie Sanders. “When we vote,” Ocasio stated afterwards, “this is what happens.”
Ocasio was “unapologetic” and “honest” in articulating her beliefs and “walking the walk now.” She hopes this moment contributes to an era that rethinks “who” and “what it means” to be a candidate.
Steve Romalewski, Director of the CUNY Mapping Service, found that most of Ocasio’s strongest support “was from areas that were not predominately Hispanic,” as one might expect. Rather, her highest concentration of votes came from places where newcomers to the district are clustered, such as Sunnyside and the northern portion of Astoria.
Overall turnout, nearly 12 percent, was comparable to existing norms, including Crowley’s last primary challenge. His loss has drawn comparisons to Eric Cantor, former House Majority Leader, who unexpectedly lost in a 2014 primary challenge. “We had people running this like a 1998 City Council race and not a 2018 congressional primary,” concluded one of Crowley’s campaign staffers.
The election was a clear indication of a growing progressive contingent within the Democratic Party that leaders must contend with. Ocasio is one of a dozen plus Democratic House candidates who have suggested Nancy Pelosi should step aside as leader. Pelosi has been atop the caucus for 16 years.
Democratic leaders have publicly framed Ocasio’s victory as an isolated case. James Clyburn (SC-6), the third ranking Democrat, contended Crowley “didn’t pay enough attention to those constituents at home.”
When asked if Democrats were shifting to younger, female, progressive leaders, Nancy Pelosi responded with a smile: “I am female. I am progressive. What’s your problem?” The caucus has "an array of genders, generations, geography and the rest," Pelosi concluded, "and we're very proud of that."
Luke Perry (@PolSciLukePerry) is Chair and Professor of Government at Utica College.