When Joe Crowley addressed his supporters on election night, he pulled out a guitar and launched into “Born to Run,” with his backing band, dedicating it to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the 28-year-old upstart whose 15-point victory over him upended the city and the nation’s political landscape.
“Thunder Road” would probably have been more appropriate.
A little over two weeks later the comity between the Democratic nominee and the man she vanquished — Crowley told New York on election night that “I give Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez a lot of credit. She ran a great campaign” — appears to have vanished. Ocasio-Cortez took to Twitter Thursday morning and accused the longtime congressman of mounting an under-the-radar third-party run against her.
“.@repjoecrowley stated on live TV that he would absolutely support my candidacy. Instead, he’s stood me up for all 3 scheduled concession calls. Now, he’s mounting a 3rd party challenge against me and the Democratic Party,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote. In a subsequent tweet she added, “So much for ‘Born to Run’” and included a link where supporters could donate money to her campaign.
“Alexandria, the race is over and Democrats need to come together. I’ve made my support for you clear and the fact that I’m not running. We’ve scheduled phone calls and your team has not followed through. I’d like to connect but I’m not willing to air grievances on Twitter,” Crowley clapped back, ironically, on Twitter.
The issue is in part about the oddities of New York election law. Crowley was supported by the Working Families Party, a left-leaning third-party outfit that threw its support behind Crowley in part because it, like the rest of the New York political world, doubted Ocasio-Cortez’s viability.
The WFP endorses in Democratic primaries, hoping to serve as the Good Progressive Seal of Approval for their chosen candidates. But they also have a ballot line in the general election, and they do not want to spoil Democratic chances to defeat Republicans by running a candidate who lost a Democratic primary. So when their chosen candidates lose in the primary, they often get off the line by agreeing to be nominated for another office, usually a down-ballot race in a distant county where they have no chance of winning. Running for, say, dog catcher of Onondaga County on the WFP line keeps Democrats viable elsewhere and preserves the WFP’s power in races that matter. The only other way to vacate the line is to die, move out of state, or go to prison.
But Crowley, whose primary residence in the Washington, D.C., suburbs became a major talking point for his primary opponent, declined to get off the line, believing that to be on the ballot for another office in a place he does not live would be unethical. And so he plans to remain on the WFP ballot in the congressional district that he has served for two decades, only as a Working Families Party member and not as a Democrat. He does not plan to campaign for a seat he would almost certainly lose in such a deeply Democratic district.
“I don’t plan on moving out of New York, have a clean record, hope God’s will is that I don’t die, and won’t commit what I honestly believe to be election fraud,” he wrote, also on Twitter.
The WFP meanwhile wants Crowley gone so that they can get as many votes for Ocasio-Cortez as possible on their line. If the WFP fails to get 50,000 votes statewide they would lose their ballot status.
“Crowley decided not to give Ocasio-Cortez and the WFP respect by allowing us to put Ocasio-Cortez on our ballot line,” New York WFP executive director Bill Lipton said in a statement. “WFP is giving all we have to electing Ocasio-Cortez and other progressive insurgents all across the nation. The only remaining way for Crowley to do the right thing is to switch his residency to Virginia, where his family resides and his children already go to school. It would fix the problem he created in an instant. Queens County Democrats practically wrote the book on election law so it’s hard to imagine they don’t know that there are standard procedures to remove a candidate from the ballot that have been approved by the New York State Court of Appeals.”
And so like many relationships that have hit the rocks, the dispute has come down to who was supposed to call who first. A Crowley campaign aide said that Ocasio-Cortez backed out of multiple scheduled phone calls between the two sides. According to the Crowley campaign, they reached out to Ocasio-Cortez’s staff, it took her team 24 hours to return a message, and then Crowley went on vacation after the race and the two sides failed to find a time to talk.
“Fundamentally, Alexandria should be as gracious in winning as Joe was in defeat, and that includes telling the whole truth,” a former Crowley campaign aide said.
An Ocasio-Cortez spokesperson declined to defend the candidate’s tweeted claim, saying that regardless Crowley should allow her to run on the WFP line. “He has had her number for two weeks. If you had someone’s number for two weeks, couldn’t you find a time to call? I don’t want to get into a back-and-forth about who called what when.”
Ocasio-Cortez meanwhile has gone from virtual unknown to national celebrity of a new political order overnight. On Thursday dozens of members of the media gathered in front of the Wall Street bull in downtown Manhattan to watch Ocasio-Cortez endorse state attorney general candidate Zephyr Teachout. The event was paused briefly to accommodate an open-air double-decker tour bus that stopped to let tourists photograph the newly minted Democratic congressional nominee. Ocasio-Cortez joked about how she used to hold press conferences that were only attended by a single local reporter who didn’t look happy to be there, and declined to answer further questions about the Crowley matter.
“This is a story that is developing, but we are here today to talk about why Zephyr Teachout is going to be the next attorney general of the state of New York,” she said.
Pressed by a reporter afterwards, Ocasio-Cortez tried to downplay the dispute.
“This is just something that is not a big deal. We will work through it. Ain’t no thang.”
As she was trailed through the side streets of Lower Manhattan by a half-dozen news cameras, Ocasio-Cortez made it clear that she had nothing else to say about the congressman.
“We are not answering questions right now,” an aide said as he shooed reporters off. “Thank you so much.”