WASHINGTON — One of the biggest stories of 2018 was Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s success in ousting a senior New York Democrat, Joseph Crowley, in her Bronx area’s 14th District.
A narrative emerged that Crowley’s responsibilities as a House leader made him inattentive to his district, and his centrism was a negative in a deeply blue district where a candidate did not need to court Republicans.
The narrative was powerful enough that it has fueled challenges this cycle from the left to three other New York City-area Democrats, all Jewish and over 70.
All three are in nationally visible positions: Eliot Engel is the chairman of Foreign Affairs Committee; Nita Lowey chairs the Appropriations Committee; and Jerry Nadler heads the Judiciary Committee.
Surprises happen, as with Ocasio-Cortez, but lightning never strikes twice in precisely the same way. Crowley’s district is comprised mostly of minority voters and is substantially working class.
In retrospect, it seemed anomalous to be represented by an older white male close to the power elites. Of the other three New York districts, only Engel’s is somewhat comparable (and doesn’t have nearly as many minority voters as Ocasio-Cortez’s) and all are wealthier.
Lowey, 82, announced late last year that she was retiring from representing her 17th District covering mostly suburbs in Rockland County and parts of Westchester.
That defused the potency of her would-be AOC, Mondaire Jones, 32, and an alumnus of the Obama administration Justice Department.
Jones announced before Lowey said she would not run again, but once the longtime incumbent said she was done, there was a rush of other candidates to step in. Most of them are like Lowey, fairly centrist.
Lohud, the USA Today-affiliated Westchester news site, says Lowey has enough potential successors to form a baseball team.
Among the Jewish candidates hoping to take her place:
David Buchwald, 41, a state assemblyman who in 1997 interned in Lowey’s office;
Allison Fine, a longtime pro-choice activist as well as a one-time synagogue president.
Adam Schleifer, 38, a former prosecutor who was part of the “Varsity Blues” prosecution of celebrity parents who bribed their kids’ way into top universities. Schleifer has the endorsement of longtime Long Island congressman Steve Israel, who is emphatically moderate and a pro-Israel Democrat; and
The challenge to Nadler, 72, from his left in the 10th District, covering parts of Manhattan and Brooklyn, is emblematic of how the AOC-Crowley story is no longer a template.
Prior to 2018, Democrats were the minority in the House and seemed impotent. Once they gained the majority in ‘18, however, the experience of their House veterans was key in battling Trump, most prominently in his impeachment.
Nadler was always more of a progressive than a centrist. Now he can boast to his very liberal district that he helped to lead a defining moment of the Trump presidency.
He has two challengers from his left: Jonathan Herzog, who advised Andrew Yang’s presidential campaign (and, at 25, would be the youngest-ever congressman), and Lindsey Boylan, 36, who helped direct economic development for New York state.
Boylan told Teen Vogue that she was inspired by Ocasio-Cortez. Her main beef with Nadler when that article was published in August, 2019 — that he wasn’t moving fast enough to impeach Trump — is now moot.
Boylan also argued that, like Ocasio-Cortez and others, she would bring a woman’s voice to a Washington.
Nadler last week secured the endorsement of Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a progressive who drew a good deal of support during her presidential candidacy from women. That neutralizes two of the areas that Nadler’s challengers say he is vulnerable, on progressive and gender politics.
Engel in the 16th, covering parts of the Bronx and Westchester County, faces the greatest challenge of the three — from Jamaal Bowman, an education activist and middle school principal.
Bowman, 43, has the endorsement of Justice Democrats, the group that helped propel Ocasio-Cortez to her victory, and has the enthusiastic support of The Intercept, an influential online newspaper on the left.
Engel also was hit recently with an Atlantic article wondering why he wasn’t campaigning in New York. The answer: No one campaigns in person during the pandemic, and his chairmanship of the Foreign Affairs Committee keeps him in DC. Nonetheless, Bowman has started to campaign in Engel’s absence.
On the plus side for Engel, 73, he helped lead the prosecution of Trump, although not with the same profile as Nadler.
He’s got plenty of middle-of-the-road Jewish constituents who appreciate his long record of pro-Israel legislation and may fear Bowman’s alliance with some of Israel’s harshest critics in Congress.
Plus, Engel has made some late-breaking news: He is taking the lead in seeking to uncover allegations of corruption against Mike Pompeo that surfaced after the secretary of state fired his department’s inspector general last week.