New York City

Ocasio-Cortez’s victory is already reshaping New York politics

How Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s victory could shape New York’s political landscape

Corey Johnson endorsing Jessica Ramos and Zellnor Myrie

Corey Johnson endorsing Jessica Ramos and Zellnor Myrie Monica Klein/Courtesy Jessica Ramos for state Senate

Supporters of Cynthia Nixon have coined the hashtag #TheCynthiaEffect to claim credit when Gov. Andrew Cuomo moves to the left on an issue. Going forward, the most apt description as politicians seeking reelection swing left could be #TheAlexandriaEffect.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s victory over Rep. Joe Crowley was an earthquake that shook New York’s entrenched political culture, and now the aftershocks are reverberating throughout the state as other insurgent candidates conduct primary campaigns against entrenched incumbents who were once considered unbeatable.

Ocasio-Cortez’s victory was accomplished with little institutional support, but a knack for organizing and a strong social media-focused strategy. Her assertively progressive platform was not incidental to her win, but a contributing factor – issues that were once taboo in many Democratic circles, like abolishing U.S. Immigrations Customs and Enforcement and Medicare-for-All, have been made more mainstream by her success.

George Arzt, a Democratic political consultant, predicted that her victory would make politicians more attuned to insurgent candidates. “People will pay more attention to progressive platforms and progressive causes, and not be dismissive of the left,” he said.

In the days since Ocasio-Cortez was elected, prominent politicians have backed insurgent candidates – and incumbents have worked to further establish their progressive credentials.

New York City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, who represents neighborhoods in Crowley’s district, told The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday that “Crowley is the machine. The machine was perceived as the problem, and she ran against the machine.” He added that “she came for the king,” and “now there is no king.”

“We live in harrowing times and people are looking for real, fundamental change,” Van Bramer told City & State. “Alexandria offered that difference to people and New York politics will be feeling the aftershocks of this for a long time."

On Thursday, Van Bramer endorsed Cynthia Nixon in the gubernatorial primary against Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who is seeking his third term. Cuomo and Crowley were staunch allies, and Crowley – the chairman of the Queens Democratic Party – had helped craft a deal with the governor to reunite the Independent Democratic Conference with mainline Democrats in the state Senate. Van Bramer is now supporting a candidate whom many believe represents the antithesis of the New York political machine, and is coming for another king.

The same day, New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson endorsed Alessandra Biaggi, Jessica Ramos, Robert Jackson and Zellnor Myrie, who are challenging four former IDC members in the upcoming primary. Johnson said while endorsing the four in front of City Hall that the plans to endorse had been in the works for months.

However, it is still a rebuke of the agreement forged by Crowley and Cuomo. Crowley helped propel Johnson to the speaker’s chair, and Johnson recently endorsed Cuomo. He had also endorsed Crowley in the primary against Ocasio-Cortez, and initially said after the election that her victory was due to turnout. Even if the endorsement of the IDC challengers was planned for months, the optics of endorsing them two days after Ocasio-Cortez’s victory made it look like a corrective measure. Meanwhile, Hector Figueroa, president of the SEIU 32BJ union – which also helped negotiate the IDC’s return to the mainstream fold – tweeted that “we oppose the IDC.”

Eric Koch, a Democratic strategist, indicated that Ocasio-Cortez’s victory could lead to a surge of progressive challengers, because “people want leaders to not just vote the right way.”

“Ocasio-Cortez ran an unabashedly progressive campaign and showed what happens when leaders aren't told to wait their turn and run to win,” Koch said.

As Ocasio-Cortez’s victory became certain on Tuesday night, Gotham Gazette Executive Editor Ben Max tweeted, “Cuomo’s gonna do so many progressive things tomorrow.” In the day after the election, the governor indeed continued to burnish his progressive credentials. After initially sending out a schedule with no events, Cuomo had a rather busy day. He announced that the state would investigate pregnancy discrimination, and signed legislation to protect immigrant children in New York. He also signed an executive order to prohibit disclosure of personal information of state employees, to prevent harassment of union workers, in light of the ruling Janus v. AFSCME by the U.S. Supreme Court, which barred mandatory union fees. He also reportedly told activists at an event that night that he would stop taking donations from fossil fuel interests. On Thursday, Cuomo was endorsed by the AFL-CIO.

The Nixon camp seems bullish about her chances against Cuomo. On Thursday, the campaign sent a press release comparing Ocasio-Cortez’s victory to Nixon’s candidacy. “An early review of results from the Ocasio-Cortez race in particular serves as a harbinger of change” in the gubernatorial race, the email read. A source close to the Nixon campaign said that “Ocasio’s victory really redefined the landscape.”

“There are a lot of people who don’t like Cuomo and just needed this extra push to know that a world without him is possible. Now many of them think it’s not only possible but inevitable,” the source said.

However, Arzt remained skeptical that Ocasio-Cortez’s victory would be a harbinger of support for Nixon’s campaign.

“The constituency in a small congressional district is a lot different than the state,” he said. “I don’t think that Nixon has a better chance than before, I think that moderates will all mobilize (now) to get out the vote.”

Cuomo, for his part, said that he would not change his campaign tactics in light of Ocasio-Cortez’s victory on Wednesday, saying that comparing her race to his was “apples and oranges.”

“I don’t think there is a common denominator among the races,” Cuomo said.