Ocasio-Cortez: ‘Calcified’ Machine Politics Cost Democrats in New York

Democrats beat the odds across the country in the midterms, but one unforeseen sore spot stood out: New York, where Republicans flipped four seats as they aimed to win majority control of the House of Representatives.

The New York Times spoke with Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who won her own race handily, about the New York results and calls from her and fellow progressives to oust the state party chairman, Jay Jacobs.

Her comments added fuel to a heated intraparty debate over what went wrong, who to blame and how to course correct.

Here is the edited and condensed interview.

So why did Democrats perform so poorly in New York on Tuesday?

There were a lot of factors that went into New York’s underperformance relative to the rest of the country.

A lot of this has roots with Andrew Cuomo. A lot of what he did to the state and Democratic Party as governor led to this moment. But it’s not really about placing blame on him, but examining what the New York State Democratic Party looks like. It is not a small “D” democratic structure. As a consequence, we do not have the rich democratic culture and organizing that should be happening year-round, from the way that we select town councils and mayorships across the state of New York. The absence of that results in a lot of what we saw.

What do you mean by that? How much is organizing and how much is massaging?

It’s no secret that an enormous amount of party leadership in New York State is based on big money and old-school, calcified machine-style politics that creates a very anemic voting base that is disengaged and disenfranchised.

There is also a narrative problem when you look at what New York did. This overreliance and insistence on leaning into Republican narratives on crime and safety hurt Democrats in the state of New York.

Instead of ignoring or even pivoting and commanding the narrative on crime and public safety, a lot of Democrats leaned into Lee Zeldin’s approach.

Gov. Kathy Hochul did try to do that to an extent, right? She repeatedly tried to bring the discussion back to the proliferation of guns and gun safety.

She absolutely put in that effort, but it’s a team sport. When you have certain congressional candidates running ads on defund the police, when we have the mayor speaking from certain frames on crime and safety, I think it further drives these narratives.

Not once has the New York State Democratic chair ever called me. All he has done is antagonize myself and any progressive candidates. We need to get together as a team. This idea of pure moderate politics that seeks to defeat both a progressive grass roots and a Republican Party at the same time very often isolates itself and makes itself smaller.

A lot of Hochul’s messaging was about why not to vote for Zeldin. Did she do a good enough job laying out a proactive vision for the state?

We as a party benefit from being very assertive about our vision and explaining not just what the stakes are and not just the consequences of what would happen given Republican victory, but also to lay down a vision and be unafraid about what we will do with power.

We can be a state like California that puts things like public banking on the ballot. We have bills in the State Legislature right now like the Build Public Renewables Act that is profoundly motivating.

I don’t think its just turnout. Leaning into Republican messaging hurts persuasion, too.

Where did this election leave you?

New York politics especially in New York City is going through a very strong generational upheaval. Overall the performance is disappointing and this old-school machine politics could well have cost the House majority.

I don’t feel caught off guard. I don’t feel like my reality has been upended. Others may feel more surprised with this. I feel very cleareyed about what the path should be ahead. We should rebuild the New York State Democratic Party and if that is a structure that refuses to be reformed, we rebuild and replace.

Obviously it’s not a good outcome. But I think it is the difference between being sick and having a diagnosis and not having a diagnosis.

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