Interviews & Profiles

Retired insurance exec challenging 'radical' AOC in Democratic primary

Marty Dolan said he believes the representative’s policies are losing support in New York’s 14th Congressional District.

Rick Lash for the Dolan Campaign

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has represented New York’s 14th Congressional District, which covers sections of the East Bronx and northern Queens, since 2019, and has easily won reelection since then. Now a retired insurance executive is mounting a challenge against Ocasio-Cortez in the upcoming June Democratic primary.

Marty Dolan originally planned to challenge Rep. Jamaal Bowman in the 16th Congressional District, but said he switched races over to Ocasio-Cortez because he did not want to complicate things for George Latimer, a county executive and former state senator who also is looking to unseat Bowman. 

“George is a really good choice against Jamaal,” Dolan told City & State. “Considering what we're running for, which is a restructuring of the federal government's relationship with New York, and New York's competitiveness in the world. It's really better for me to run in New York, because that's really where the heart of this argument is.”

For Dolan, that argument includes not just economics, but also getting rid of what he calls, “radical” policies and ideas that he saw in both Bowman and AOC, the latter he calls the leader of the radical movement. Dolan claims the people he spoke to in the East Bronx and Queens are interested in a Democratic alternative to AOC, making him believe he may not have a long shot in this race as some would say. 

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

How do you define radical?

How do you define progressive? So I take the word progressive, and I think of the word progress. So it's intended to create progress. What I think about radicalism is, there's a lot of talk, there's a lot of flashy ideas, that are radical ideas that are designed to pose a provocative question. It’s good to pose a provocative question. But a lot of the times the reason that a provocative question is being asked for the benefit of the person who's asking. So in this case, what I find is that there's a strong relationship between the radical, who's asking the question, and the person who's running for office or trying to get attention. So it's attention seeking ideas. We're not a democracy. We're a republic. And the structure of the Constitution was set up by the founding fathers, so that we would not have these zigs and zags the way that they'd seen in Europe, and it’s worked pretty well. All of this is designed for slow change. But when it comes to politics, politics is designed for slow change. And so radicalism is doomed to fail.

You're running in this race because you personally feel that Ocasio-Cortez is too far left. But what makes you think that the district is more conservative than her, especially given that she's won reelection a number of times?

You have to think about a long time and different perspectives. She's only had one primary since she was elected. And I think that has to do with this. The voters don't think about the primary enough; they think about the general election. I'm very confident that if you could pull every single person in the 14th Congressional District, she might have support from 15% of them.  I think that she always had no support from the Republican side. I'd say her support is in a hardcore radicalized group of voters in Queens, [along with] a few in the Bronx. But they were behind the idea for change. They're behind the idea of somebody younger, a woman, a minority, okay, that's all great. But if you go through Queens, people have houses. People live in co-ops. People are invested in their communities. They're not for radical change. So her support in Queens is evaporating.

Do you think that Bowman is more vulnerable than AOC?

Each congressional race is different. I don't think you can talk about vulnerability. It's just an election. I mean, it is, what it is. I felt like I had a duty to do the right thing. And if you had George Latimer running against Bowman and me running, it's gone. It could have confused things. My main thing was that there should be a clear choice for the voters. So I was like, let's just take our team, take our message, and direct it toward the leader of the radical movement instead of to somebody who is perceived as a weak member of the radical movement, which is Bowman. 

Why run to represent a district that you do not live in? Don’t you live in Westchester?

I said I would move into the district when the redistricting was done so I got an apartment in the Bronx. I'm looking for a place in Queens. We're actually not going to have an office, we're going to have a mobile van. Because we think the constituent service idea is the key thing. So we're going to go to the people. We're going to basically have a van, and then we're going to call it the Rolling With Dolan Van. We're just going to set up this van, maybe have two vans, just go around the district and present ourselves to constituents as being available to hear what they have to say.

George Latimer has received a lot of support from groups like the AIPAC that oppose Rep. Bowman. Are you hoping to receive any support or endorsements from moderate or pro-Israel groups that are critical of Rep. Ocasio-Cortez?

We're not worried about that. I think it's too late in the game because of the redistricting for us. In most election districts, they're broken up into precincts, or in Westchester, towns and cities, and they were going to endorse this person or that person. But that happened in February and January and in March. And that's another thing, the redistricting process is really screwed up. Because it creates a huge advantage for incumbents.

What are your thoughts on the protests at Columbia University and other college campuses, and what should higher education leaders be doing differently?

I think the obligation of the higher ed leaders is to [maintain] campus safety and freedom of speech. So that's a balancing act. Clearly, they were not providing for campus safety. So I think that's everyone's obligation. We revere the First Amendment in the United States. So you are going to have freedom of speech. But there are also laws about hate speech. Columbia University has a responsibility to its Jewish students to protect them. I think the concern about these demonstrations is that they're organized. They aren't happening by accident. They're happening the same way that the radicals export people to the congressional districts to canvas. So there's money behind these protests. It's not a student who's just at Columbia saying, “Well, I'm going to protest. There's a point to what they're doing. They're trying to make a political point out of it. And I think it's all well and good if students of Columbia University or NYU want to protest.

AOC was recently on Stephen Colbert, and you wrote a letter to CBS requesting equal time.

Yes, in fact, we hand-delivered that letter. 

And CBS said there’s no equal time rule for politicians?

I'm happy to explain it the way we see it. CBS responded to the New York Post with that comment. They haven't responded to our official request. So the way it works, [in the FCC guidelines] during an election period (I think CBS was not aware that she was in an election period, because she hasn't had a primary for a while), if it's not news, and if it's not a news show, and if the network offers its facilities to one candidate, it must offer it to all candidates … [If you don’t follow the rules] you end up with the consequences to the electorate. You end up with an incumbent advantage and you have 95% of incumbents get reelected. And you end up with celebrity politics.

How’s the fundraising going? Your campaign funds are about $250,000.

It's more than what we need. Campaign finance in the United States is obscene. It's obscene to have $6 million in AOC’s bank account, when $6 million could go to the Bronx and Queens. It's like an insult to the voters that she has $6 million and the Bronx is the poorest county in New York state. So we have more than we need to contact the voters in the 14th district. We're spending our money wisely. We only have one mobile van now. But if you're talking about leaflets, if you're talking about walking around meeting people, if you're in the supermarkets, you don't need an obscene amount of money. You need a cup of coffee, an alarm clock and determination. And then the voters see that.