Where is AOC?
Two years ago, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez embarked on a mission to leave her mark on New York City government by supporting left-leaning candidates through her personal influence and a leadership PAC.
However according to the NYT, as New Yorkers gear up for the upcoming City Council elections, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s presence has been noticeably absent. Her political action committee, Courage to Change, which backed 60 candidates in 2021, has become inactive. Her advisors have cautioned campaigns against reusing past statements of support. While she has offered discreet assistance to left-leaning incumbents who opposed last year’s city budget, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez has yet to officially endorse any candidates and may not do so, even as early voting began on Saturday.
According to a message viewed by The New York Times, a representative from the PAC wrote to candidates in late March, stating, “Our team will be in touch about any endorsements the congresswoman plans to make in the 2023 cycle. But in the meantime, please do not use Courage to Change PAC or A.O.C. branding in your current materials.”
This shift is partly due to this year’s quieter elections. The mayor and other citywide officeholders will not face voters for another two years, and there are fewer competitive Council primaries due to redistricting.
However, allies claim that it also reflects Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s transformation from an insurgent aiming to bring in a new generation of revolutionary leaders to a more traditional Democratic figure who must contend with electoral realities. She now prioritizes her increasing responsibilities in Washington and is cautious about overextending her political influence.
Chi Ossé, a Brooklyn councilman and one of the few budget dissenters assisted by Ms. Ocasio-Cortez behind the scenes, stated, “If we called on her for support in the future, I’m sure that she would definitely step in. But she’s very focused and busy on what’s happening in Washington right now.”
Furthermore, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s own political operation is going through a period of change. She dismissed her campaign manager earlier this year after a scathing congressional ethics report linked to her attendance at the 2021 Met Gala. A replacement, Oliver Hidalgo-Wohlleben, who previously served as the political director for Senator Bernie Sanders, just began his role last week.
Lauren Hitt, a spokeswoman for the congresswoman, mentioned that Ms. Ocasio-Cortez is still contemplating whether to involve herself in any races. Ms. Hitt also clarified that her silence should not be interpreted as a permanent withdrawal from New York City politics.
“It’s just a very different election cycle,” she explained, pointing to the numerous incumbent Council members who are running unopposed or not facing significant challenges. “That was the overwhelming reason here and the primary reason here.”
While it is not uncommon for members of New York City’s congressional delegation to wield their influence in Council races, typically they limit themselves to contests within their own districts. In contrast, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez assumed an unconventional and broader role in 2021 by supporting candidates well beyond her political base in the East Bronx and Northwest Queens.
Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s level of engagement in New York races has fluctuated since her surprising primary victory over a long-standing congressman in 2018, and the results have been mixed. In 2021, numerous candidates sought the support of Courage to Change, but the PAC also caused confusion. Its endorsement process relied on a questionnaire that gauged candidates’ positions on various liberal policy issues, such as reducing funding for the New York Police Department. However, there was no additional vetting, resulting in endorsements being granted to both a prominent opponent of bike and public transportation projects in Manhattan and a former political aide accused of sympathizing with North Korea.
Although some candidates treated the support from Courage to Change PAC as an endorsement from Ocasio-Cortez, her team clarified that it was not the case, as she personally endorsed only nine candidates.
During the 2022 midterms, she endorsed a successful democratic socialist candidate in a State Senate race in Queens, among other races. However, she chose not to get involved in the primary for governor, which frustrated some of her allies. Additionally, she experienced a notable defeat when her endorsement of an underdog primary challenger to the chairman of the influential Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee did not succeed.
However, unless she rapidly issues a wave of last-minute endorsements, 2023 appears to be her quietest election year so far compared to her fellow House colleagues from the city.