Joe Crowley’s recent primary loss in New York’s 14th district is a really interesting picture of America’s changing demographic situation.
Joe Crowley has been in Congress since 1999, representing New York’s 7th district. (IE, Queens.) He was a powerful congressional Democrat, holding the Democratic Caucus Chairmanship, making him the #4 Dem in the House. He was also a fundraising genius, widely loved by his fellow Dems for his ability to extract huge donations from his New York elite buddies.
But in 2012, his turf underwent redistricting. Crowley became the rep for the 14th district, and his district suddenly included a lot more of the Bronx than it had previously.
Joe Crowley, an old-school Democrat “party-boss” type, had never faced a serious primary challenge over nearly 20 years in Congress. Crowley was an Irish guy, somebody with roots in the local Democrat operations.
Before being elected to congress, Crowley was a staffer for his predecessor, Rep Thomas Manton, who handpicked him to be his successor in a heavily Democrat district. (As the story goes, Manton submitted notice of his retirement and picked Crowley to replace him on the ballot the day before the legal deadline. And he only told Crowley about it after the fact.)
Now, in a season where he expected to win his district primary easily yet again, Joe Crowley has been solidly defeated by a total political newcomer, a young Hispanic woman named Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Ocasio-Cortez is a Bernie Sanders creature, and a student of the Sandernista school of “overpromise, underdeliver.” She was a staffer for Sanders on his 2016 campaign, and her campaign tactics strongly resembled that of her former boss.
Ocasio-Cortez beat Joe Crowley by about 15 points, carrying the election across the 14th district. She even won the Queens parts of the district by a larger margin than she won the Bronx parts, which is surprising, given that the Bronx is mainly Puerto Rican and Ocasio-Cortez herself is of Puerto Rican descent.
Actually, this shouldn’t be much of a surprise anyway. Although Queens is much more diverse than, say, the Bronx, its largest population segment is still Hispanic, at 27.9%. The White population of Queens, by contrast is 27.2%.
And the parts of Queens that were in Joe Crowley’s district were, on balance, more Hispanic than the rest. The Woodside neighborhood, for example, is 33.5% Hispanic (though it’s 39.9% Asian too) and only 22.5% White. And Jackson Heights, another Queen neighborhood that was folded into Crowley’s district during the redistricting in 2012, has a Hispanic population of 56.5%.
So, Joe Crowley was an old-school Irish democrat sitting in an increasingly Hispanic district. Although his district was redrawn, he hadn’t faced a primary challenge at all in the four years since the redistricting occurred. This time, he was challenged by a young, energetic opponent, a Bernie-style Socialist whose platform included such humdingers as “Medicare for all,” and “abolish the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.”
No, I shit you not.
Poor old Joe Crowley got his Irish ass handed to him by a young Puerto Rican woman (born and raised in the Bronx, too) who campaigned all across the Bronx and the Hispanic parts of Queens on a platform of “end ICE.”
The outcome of that race should not be a surprise to anybody.
In fact, it ought to be a lesson to American politicians who think the old ways of doing things aren’t going anywhere. America’s demography is changing. Those who represent the status quo are no longer safe on their gilded thrones.
But, even more interestingly, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez had a lot of support not only from Hispanics in the Bronx and the Jackson Heights area. She actually had her greatest showing in the Astoria neighborhood, which is at least 50% White.
White New York liberals were attracted to her radical progressive message and her Socialist branding. Old-guard Democrats like Joe Crowley may not be sitting pretty in their seats for long. It’s not enough anymore to be just “pro-worker” and “unconvincingly enthusiastic about diversity”. Democrats of the future will, increasingly, have to reflect the ethnic identities of the people they allegedly represent.
Otherwise, they’re going to keep being beaten by diverse newcomers with radical messages that wow the White progressive wing of the party. Because the new Democrat coalition is made up of minorities and liberals; as the Trump election showed, the White Working Class has increasingly moved Independent, or even Republican, as populist Republicans move to attract their votes.
There’s a lot less room in the Democrat tent for guys like Joe Crowley, these days.