2018-11-07 / Front Page

Ocasio-Cortez Visits Rego Park

By Thomas Cogan
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is probably the most talked-about and publicized New York congressional candidate since Bella Abzug first ran for a similar office nearly a half-century ago. Ocasio-Cortez (AOC for short) has gone as far afield as California and several points in between in the weeks since her primary victory over Congressman Joseph Crowley on June 26, but as the long campaign comes down to its final days, she has been mainly around and about in her Queens-Bronx 14th Congressional District. On October 27, she made a morning appearance at a diner in Rego Park, and later at the Variety Boys & Girls Club in Astoria.

To make a final comparison between her and Abzug: except for their persistence and a left-progressive political message, these two office-seekers could hardly appear more different. Cortez famously admitted that until quite recently she’d been working as a bartender, while Abzug had been a formidable attorney. The 2018 candidate, speaking without a microphone at the Silver Spoon Diner, at 58-21 Junction Blvd., could hardly be heard a few tables away, while the 1970 candidate could speak so powerfully that some of her detractors called her Bellow Absurd.

But persistence and her message carry Oscasio-Cortez through. Ethan Felder, a labor lawyer and member of Community Board 6 in Forest Hills, said the drive to elect this “inspirational political figure” began with a meeting at the same Silver Spoon diner where he stood and expressed his enthusiasm for Cortez. Felder knocked on countless doors on her behalf, in Lefrak City and elsewhere. On the verge of what now seems a certain election victory he said he was proud to have done his “small part” to bring her this far.
At the meeting of the Justice for All Coalition in Astoria she may have been the star speaker, but there were several other speakers, most of them at least as far left as she is, with one or more of them implying that she is little or no better than the conventional politicians they were busy excoriating.

Ocasio-Cortez, who calls herself a Democratic Socialist, was greeted with great applause when introduced. She began by saying neighborhoods will never get justice if the neighbors aren’t fully in on it. Housing, she said, should not be a profit opportunity and linked vacant market rate units to a burgeoning homeless population. She called for divestment from luxury housing and said she had no money from developers financing her campaign. “When we can get elected without that money, it will be a powerful shift,” she said. Of her primary she said, “We made a new playbook” when she won. But, anticipating her next success she said, “I wish voting were just ‘set it and forget it’ but it’s not,” since a great amount of work and learning is ahead of her.

She took questions, the first being about the amount of money a successful candidate must relinquish to the national party. Her reply seemed to be a space-filling procedure to get her to another question, which happened to be about the safe streets and bike lanes issue. She said that was the most bitter issue she saw while campaigning, before tying it to the threat of climate change.

Her next questioner identified himself as an independent voter who was asking for a “dialogue” about open primaries, declaring the closed, party-members-only primaries that obtain in New York a disgrace. Her answer was quick, as she said that open primaries are needed. Not needed, she said, are the excess of elections that the state also provides, causing voter fatigue and low turnout.

When agreeing with another inquirer about the attention that must be paid to the crisis of the New York City Housing Authority, or NYCHA, she said that “housing is a human right.” That belief was seconded by a succeeding speaker, Assembly Member Aravella Simotas, who also said, as did others, that we should not be displacing communities. She said she fights for public housing in Albany and like NYS Senator Michael Gianaris, who spoke earlier, accepts no real estate money.

Gianaris additionally said that when the Democrats take over the Albany legislature in 2019, housing problems will change for the better. But another speaker, Ernie Books, a musician and Long Island City resident, repeated what may be the most important warning that has been made about the current LIC: that it was built over old sewerage, which cannot bear the burden being put on it and therefore backs up now and will back up worse later.

If Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wins her race November 6, she’ll have to face an insistent constituency turning to her as their representative. She’ll have to remember what she said, that her triumph isn’t “set it and forget it.”

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