Viewpoints

Winning isn’t what it used to be in New York’s 14th District

SAN DIEGO -- Have you been keeping track of the telenovela in New York’s 14th Congressional District? If not, you’re missing quite a show.

The primary election may be over, but the drama continues. And instead of the picture getting clearer for Democrats in a district that is made up of Queens and the Bronx, the outlook is murkier than ever.

 
Opinion

The plot is about three things: power, power and power. And there is plenty of intrigue, with no sense of who can be trusted.

The old saying goes: “It’s the pioneers who take the arrows.” And in politics, the arrows come from friend and foe alike.

Clearly, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez scares Republicans. It’s amusing to hear folks who handed their party and the nation to a carnival barker with zero political experience and a knack for rattling the Republican establishment now wring their hands over a self-declared democratic socialist with zero political experience and a knack for rattling the Democratic establishment.

But the 28-year-old insurgent also frightens many Democrats, including those who are part of the machine that has been put in place by Rep. Joe Crowley, the 10-term incumbent who outspent Ocasio-Cortez 18-to-1 and still managed to lose by 15 points. The Democrats may need to worry less about socialism, and more about cronyism.

After the daughter of a Puerto Rican mother and Bronx-born Latino father ousted the son of an Irish immigrant who said he couldn’t help being “born white,” I wrote a column warning Democrats that the times they are a-changin’. The way I saw it, the upset puts white Democrats on notice that they will no longer be able to represent areas that are increasingly nonwhite.

The 14th District is nearly half Latino and 68 percent nonwhite.

An angry reader told me I was wrong and claimed that the Democratic Party is one big happy family and insisted that Crowley was supporting Ocasio-Cortez. After all, the reader said, Crowley had -- on election night -- picked up a guitar and dedicated to his opponent a rendition of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run.”

But due to a quirky provision in New York election law, write-in votes that were registered on the line of a third-party -- the Working Families Party -- have resulted in Crowley’s name being on the ballot in November’s general election. When Ocasio-Cortez learned this, she hit the roof. Then she hit Twitter to accuse Crowley of conspiring in, or at least going along with, an attempt by some of his supporters to return him to Congress and keep the gravy train going.

“So much for ‘Born to Run,’” she tweeted.

Crowley tweeted back: “Alexandria, the race is over and Democrats need to come together. I’ve made my support for you clear and the fact that I’m not running.”

Yeah, here’s the thing. There must be dozens of ways for Crowley to prove that he is not in on this shenanigan and that he is genuinely ready to retire. He could campaign with Ocasio-Cortez and raise money for her, or he could declare -- a la Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman -- that he won’t serve if elected. Instead, he reportedly doesn’t want to remove his name from the ballot, despite the fact that leaders of the Working Families Party have asked him to do so.

I tell you, something is rotten in the 14th District.

Say, maybe Crowley picked the wrong Springsteen tune. Perhaps he should have gone with “Brilliant Disguise” whose lyrics must be ringing in Ocasio-Cortez’s mind right about now.

“So tell me who I see when I look in your eyes. Is that you, baby, or just a brilliant disguise?”

Welcome to the big leagues, Alexandria.

You’re learning the first three rules of politics: leading from the front means having to watch your back; when the long knives come out, they are often held by people in your own party; and insurgents may emerge victorious, but -- because of the very nature of insurgency -- they’ll never be fully welcomed.

Meanwhile, Ocasio-Cortez is continuing on full steam ahead. She is using Republican attacks on her to raise money from supporters. She is also not afraid to challenge old-school Democrats with moxie and blunt language. And all this is getting many on the left excited again.

Silly Democrats. You shouldn’t be trying to stop Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, or trying to tame her. You ought to be trying to clone her.

Ruben Navarrette’s email address is ruben@rubennavarrette.com. His daily podcast, “Navarrette Nation,” is available through every podcast app.

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