28 July 2022
A Fairy Tale of New York
by J.R. Thomas
Young politicians have to learn a lot very quickly. Mind you, some of it is pretty basic stuff. Like not turning your back on your enemies for long. And what else? Yup, that your opponents are in front of you, but your enemies are behind you. Ms Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez – who will henceforward be referred to, as she does herself, as “AOC” – is a very well known, young, undoubtedly talented left wing rising star of the Democratic Party, who is rarely out of the media. She is now into her second term as Congresswoman for the 14th Congressional District of New York and a staple of the interview circuit and the political quote. But astonishingly, she has just been accused of being insufficiently well known. Not of course, in Washington, where some fellow members of Congress think she is only too well known, but in her own 14th Congressional District.
This charge has been brought not by elderly male members of the GOP, anxious to chop the young firebrand congresswoman off at the knees, but by the New York Senator for Queens, which includes the 14th district, Jessica Ramos. State Senator Ramos is a fellow Democrat but is fed up with getting complaints from AOC’s constituents that she, AOC, is never seen in the 14th, but prefers the wide sunlit uplands of Washington DC, with its friendly social media and ever roaming journalists, eager for controversial comment on fashionable causes of the moment. “It would be nice”, Ms Ramos suggested from Queens, “if AOC breathed our air”.
This all came to a head last week when AOC refused the latest of several requests by healthcare activists to set up a meeting to discuss “NHS style healthcare reforms” (no guys, don’t even think of it, really, don’t). AOC’s office apparently said that she is not doing healthcare at the moment. Outrage ensured when the activists saw AOC arrested at a demonstration outside the Supreme Court – the one in Washington – and being dragged away in handcuffs after protesting about recent developments in abortion law – you know which ones. Except she very clearly wasn’t – as alas the all-seeing TV cameras made clear. Not dragged and not handcuffed that is; she just pretended to be, as the police politely escorted her from the demo, without cuffs. Next time, AOC, bring your own and slip them secretly on, giving the key to a trustworthy mate – not Senator Ramos though.
The Senator is, like AOC, a rising star from the left of the Democrat Party, born and bred in Queens and of the AOC generation, aged 37. She and AOC were great friends and worked on various political campaigns and indeed still share offices. Except, Ms Ramos says, no office share seems to be involved. AOC is very rarely seen in the office or the 14th, and her constituents are very fed up with not being properly represented. Indeed, says Ms Ramos, she has not personally spoken to AOC since January last year. There has certainly been a falling out and open warfare has now commenced between the supporters of the two ladies [Can I say “ladies?” Ed: “if you must, but don’t repeat it”].
Some of this may be personal but more is political, with a primary election for AOC’s congressional seat coming up in just over a month. The only declared Democratic opponent is Edgardo Marrero, though there is still a little time for other challengers to emerge. The seat, and many other New York seats, have undergone large scale redistribution of voters this summer which means there are a large number of new voters in the 14th – over 300,000 – and a similar number have gone to other seats. It is still safe Democrat territory but beating the Republican does mean winning the Democrat primary first. That makes the timing of Ms Ramos’s protests against the invisibility of AOC somewhat significant, especially as a number of supporting grumbles then followed. What may also be significant is that AOC has herself been interfering volubly in the Hudson Valley district primary, another Democrat safe seat, where senior Democrat Representative Patrick Maloney is being challenged by AOC ally Alessandro Biaggi. AOC has strongly endorsed Ms Biaggi, an action which is regarded as very bad form in political norms – however great the temptation, do not do unto your neighbours what they might deal back to you. Mr Maloney is furious and there is a muttering that AOC is getting much too big for her boots, especially as her next stepping stone to the White House (maybe, one day, though maybe not) is one of New York’s federal Senate seats.
AOC should perhaps spend a little time musing on the history of other young and ambitious politicians. Indeed, we would suggest a quiet week sitting under a tree (in Queens would be good) reading the most excellent biography of John Fitzgerald Kennedy by Fredrik Logevall. Only part one is published so far, but it covers the years 1917 to 1956 as the young JFK was educated, served in the war, and then rose rapidly to political prominence, firstly as a very young Congressman and then Senator. He did not do that by dissing his fellow party members, playing strange political games, or indeed pretending to be handcuffed. Neglecting your roots and making enemies of the political establishment who will be your essential endorsees is not a great strategy for garnering the support and affection which will take you up the dangerous tower of political ambition. AOC is at the very least getting a warning as to her future conduct, that politics is often a team game. But will she listen, or even care?
And now to Washington. The President has had covid, but luckily seems to have got away with a relatively minor bout and, four days after announcing this, was able to chat to journalists– a minor miracle in itself – albeit in, as he admitted, a somewhat croaky voice. But Washington is about to close for the summer; Mr Biden will be off no doubt to his favourite home, a large house in Greenville, Delaware, with perhaps excursions to east coast resorts, maybe even that presidential favourite, Martha’s Vineyard. He needs to rest up; he is facing a tough autumn with the midterm elections for Congress and the Senate coming up, and likely to cost him the current (admittedly pretty much nominal) control the Democrats have over both. All he can hope for is that the Republicans fall over their own feet on the build up to the GOP Presidential nomination; a Mr Trump is rumoured to be about to make a big announcement (maybe he will have done so by the time you read this), but it seems likely that runners for the job will be at least include Ron De Santis, Nikki Haley, and Mike Pence. Any of those would make a perfectly respectable Republican challenger. It is hard to see similar strength on the Democrat bench. Maybe AOC, the time is coming to be audacious? But beware fellow Democrats who urge that on you…