The upcoming Democratic primary election for New York’s 14th Congressional district on 23 June 2020 has a plot worthy of a political thriller in which the young (30), outspoken incumbent Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) will face her main challenger, Michelle Caruso -Cabrera (53), former CNBC journalist.
The Primary Landscape
The battleground is New York’s 14th Congressional district that encompasses the following neighborhoods in The Bronx and Queens with a combined population of 712,000:
Pelham Gardens, City Island, Country Club, Van Nest, Morris Park, Parkchester, Pelham Bay, Schuylerville, Allerton and Throggs Neck.
Astoria, College Point, Corona, North Corona, East Elmhurst, Elmhurst, Jackson Heights, Sunnyside and Woodside.
Demographics as per the 2010 US Census Bureau
· 50% Hispanic, 18% Caucasian, 16% Asian, 11% African-American, 4% Other.
· Median household income: $47,000
· College graduates: 25%
· High school only: 75%
AOC – The Incumbent
AOC is one of the four members of the Squad that also includes Ayanna Pressley (Massachusetts), Ilham Omar (Minnesota) and Rashida Tlaib (Michigan), with an average age of 38, all recently elected congresswomen of color, outspoken, bold, fearless – totally badass disruptors. They have the dubious distinction and rare ability to be the GOP’s and Democrat’s worst nightmare. They’ll tell the GOP what mere mortal Democrats dare not say – at least publicly – and an irritant to their Democrat colleagues with their failure to follow unspoken protocols with their fiercely independent opinions.
In the political circles and on the field political parties are still marginalizing the younger generation; the average age of the present-day 116th Congress is 57.
The sudden sensitivity to the Squad’s bold statements upon arrival on the Washington political scene exposed the timidity and insecurity of the politically entrenched and older Democrats who are in shocking denial that the Squad is precisely who they need to turbo-charge their campaigns to fire up their constituency and reclaim credibility as innovators. It’s a clarion wake-up call on behalf of the modern-day political Cassandras who can see an even darker future for America if the Democrats continue pursue the same path of stale, unimaginative ideas.
The Leading Challenger – Ms. Cabrera
Although AOC is better funded for this campaign by far than Ms. Cabrera with $10.5 million vs $2 million in campaign donations, it’s the donors backing Ms. Cabrera that are telling. These donors include top management figures from Blackstone, Goldman Sachs, Home Depot, Gristedes chain, and other private equity, hedge fund and white shoe law firms.
Ms. Cabrera was formerly registered as a Republican in 2015 and heavily criticized the Democratic party fiscal policies. In other words you have a lifelong Republican running as Democratic candidate, the ultimate sheep in wolf’s clothing. With executives from big corporations as donors (albeit individual contributions maxing out at $2,800), this brings up the uncomfortable question: to which “master” does Ms. Cabrera answer – big corporations or the people?
Corporate Political Firepower
The philosophy of Big Tech, Big Pharma, big corporations is #ProfitsMatter in which they morph like a chameleon and brand themselves accordingly. Historically big corporations bend, yield, compromise on social issues in order that upper management satisfy the greed of wealthy shareholders. After they weather whatever socio-political storm du jour by promising the afflicted the moon, they institute cosmetic non-binding and unenforceable policies and its back to business as usual.
Since her political ascensions AOC has called out big corporations on these hollow promises which have repeated themselves throughout NYC. Multigenerational lower/working and middle residents by the thousands have been economically displaced en masse through gentrification – sometimes as a result of eminent domain - despite generously proposed affordable housing provisions which are poorly defined, limited in scope and accommodate only a fraction of the displaced residents.
Fifth Column Tactics
For the GOP this particular primary is an excellent litmus test. The GOP is unabashedly trying to get through the backdoor using a GOP lifer as a Democrat, with a token financial backing by upper management of big corporations. Should Ms. Cabrera lose the primary, a moderately good showing could inspire them to refine their methods and apply them elsewhere in the future. The same tactic used by Trump to hijack the GOP to ascend to the presidency, this is a Fifth Column tactic applied locally will provide the information required should the GOP lose the presidential election but will still have outsized political influence during a Democratic-led presidency.
Although the 14th Congressional District’s population of 712,000 is a mere 8.3% of NYC’s 8.5 million population, compared to other US cities it’s a large city unto itself with the equivalent population of Denver and Washington, DC, and slightly more than Boston. Essentially the 14th Congressional District is a typical American-city sample size.
In a Joan of Arc defining moment AOC battled Amazon, one of the Big Tech hydras, successfully denying them the right to build HQ2 in Long Island City who persuasively argued that Amazon ‘s proposal risked economically marginalizing the Long Island City lower and middle class residents.
Like her or hate her, AOC is a refreshing throwback to those daring maverick politicians who had the brass balls to fight the good fight and stare down business and political pressure, proving that she cannot be bought or influenced by big corporations and their legion of lawyers and lobbyists.
In winning the district in 2018 AOC established a beachhead and now big corporations led by Cabrera are seeking a political counterattack to reclaim it. The residents know that AOC has their back as the new vanguard of new dynamic badass politician. For this reason I believe that AOC will win handily in the upcoming primary but even in victory must be aware of the caveats and inevitable fallout.
[Originally published 21 June 2020]
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The Cerulean Council is a NYC-based think-tank that provides prescient, beyond-the-horizon, contrarian perspectives and risk assessments on geopolitical dynamics and global urban security.