There’s a reason the old saying, “be careful what you wish for,” is an old saying. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez may wind up learning that the hard way. In the wake of Amazon’s decision last year to plant one of its new headquarters in New York City, and with it 25,000 jobs in exchange for generous tax breaks, Ocasio-Cortez did what any good socialist would do. She slammed the deal.
At the time, it seemed like a pretty safe bet. The jobs were already coming, so why not take the opportunity to stick your finger in the eye of the big, mean, nasty corporation? Today, all that changed. She fished what she wished and Amazon decided not to bring tens of thousands of jobs to New York City after all. Today, her effective opposition to the deal is a much different story, one in which she has to defend creating less opportunity for working New Yorkers.
This afternoon, a spokesperson for Ocasio-Cortez said she would not be taking any interviews. One can see why. But the real question is whether this could hurt her politically. In fact, there is good reason to believe that this debacle has opened the door to a potential primary challenge. Given that almost the entire New York Democratic Party machine, from Mayor Bill de Blasio to Governor Andrew Cuomo were desperate for the Amazon deal; a challenge to AOC might well attract some serious backers.
And the polls back it up. According to a recent Sienna College poll, a majority of New Yorkers supported the deal, an even bigger majority in Queens, the very borough where the HQ would have been located. Moreover, 70 percent of black New Yorkers and 81 percent of Hispanic New Yorkers wanted Amazon in Gotham. Both demographic groups suffer from higher unemployment than the rest of the city. As Daily News Columnist Rob George put it in Twitter, it was “AOC vs. POC.”
Adding to the intrigue is the fact that Ocasio-Cortez is far from a popular figure in the Democratic Party establishment in New York City. The Justice Democrats PAC that supported her candidacy was reportedly looking at bringing forth a primary challenger for Hakeem Jeffries, the second highest ranking black member of Congress, whose district borders Ocasio-Cortez’s. The very popular Jeffries seemed to smirk at the notion, basically saying, “Go for it.” Justice Democrats and Ocasio-Cortez quickly backed off the idea. But one wonders if Jeffries will just forget the threat.
According to one source knowledgeable about NYC politics, the Democratic establishment hates Ocasio-Cortez but also wants to cash in on her popularity. Seems like many Democrats in Washington are in a similar conundrum. Could Democrats in both New York City and Washington decide she does more harm than good? It’s not impossible. Look at Max Rose who won New York’s traditionally-Republican 11th district last year. He already has two young, popular Republicans ready to take his seat, and the last thing he wants is to be representing a socialist-dominated party in Staten Island and South Brooklyn where socialism is still frowned upon.
It’s important to remember that Ocasio-Cortez came out of nowhere to beat Joe Crowley. It was a surprise attack that the city’s Democrats never thought could work. But then it did. In 2020, there will be no element of surprise, she will be the one with the target on her back. And there are potential challengers. New York City Council Deputy Leader Jimmy Van Bramer represents Long Island City, where Amazon had planned to build. He is a deeply connected politician who is known to have some degree of ambition. “Ocasio-Cortez Drove Away 25,000 Jobs” isn’t a bad campaign slogan.
Ocasio-Cortez has some arguments with which to defend herself. She can argue that crony capitalism is bad and that government shouldn’t give tax breaks to corporations. She can argue that gentrification would have happened, driving the poor from their homes, or that Amazon has poor labor practices. These are fine things to think about in the abstract, but on the ground in Queens there will now be 25,000 fewer jobs than there were going to be.
Some critics say these are all professional jobs that wouldn’t uplift the working class. This is an absurd claim. There would have been janitors, building managers, secretaries, and bookkeepers. There would have been food service and new jobs at local restaurants. Maybe there would even have been more opportunities for bartenders with political ambitions. And that’s a not a knock, work is work and should be respected, but Ocasio-Cortez should be dedicated to creating more, not less, opportunity for people to follow in her footsteps.
In a perfect world, critics of crony capitalism would be right that government should keep its thumb off the scale of the market. I’ve lived in New York City for more than two decades; it’s not a perfect city. As our president can attest to, deals between city government and business get made all the time. Is it a little dirty? Sure, so is New York. Ironically, Zuccotti Park, home of Occupy Wall Street, was created as a result of a tax break for a building developer. Make some public space, the city said; we’ll lower your taxes. That’s how it works.
Simply put, the loss of Amazon HQ is a huge loss for the city of New York. Its progressive mayor and governor agree with this. Most of its Democratic members of congress agree. Ocasio-Cortez has put herself on an island on an issue she thought was already a done deal. Now it’s a deal that is undone. As the new darling of the Democrats she may be untouchable, but she may not be. She isn’t just ruffling feathers, now. She is undermining New York City Democrats’ agendas. Don’t be surprised if an opponent decides to pounce.