Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez reshaped her party’s legislative agenda, resuscitated Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign, and hardly has a friend in Washington. For the January 6–19, 2020, cover story, New York offered Ocasio-Cortez the opportunity to assess her first year. As she tells writer David Freedlander, she’s one of the most hated people in the country; she’s also one of its most influential. Freedlander talked to the freshman member of Congress from Queens and the Bronx about Democratic party leadership, the 2020 election, and what she’ll do next.
Freedlander, who is writing a book about Ocasio-Cortez due later this year and lives in her district, says he first interviewed her when she was just an unknown upstart engaged in a quixotic political campaign against one of the most powerful people in New York City. Her win against Congressman Joe Crowley (“an old-school Irish pol who slapped backs and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for his peers”) was one of the biggest congressional upsets in at least a generation. “She impressed immediately,” Freedlander says of Ocasio-Cortez. “It was clear that she had a unique connection to people, a fierce sense of justice, and a preternatural self-possession.”
What happened in the year and a half since that election has been staggering, Freedlander says, and unlike anything he has seen in New York, or American politics — she’s the first thing people overseas ask him about, he’s spotted counterfeit pins and bumper stickers featuring her face in a surf shop in a Podunk town on the North Carolina coast, and she’s, of course, become a favorite of Fox News. “It is clear that in the past year she has become the most significant political figure in the country not named Donald Trump, which is all the more staggering when you consider that she just turned 30 years old and serves on the backest bench in Congress,” says Freedlander. “She has come to symbolize everything that people on the left and the right either hope or fear will be coming true in American politics —that it is turning sharply to the left as a rising, hyperliberal, wired-into-social-media generation takes over. It’s only been a year, and I can’t imagine what the future holds for her.”