Democratic Socialists Warn New York House Dems of Primary Challenges: 'They Should Be Afraid'

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D.) / Getty Images
February 14, 2019

Far-left New York Democrats encouraged by the rapid rise of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D., N.Y.) are threatening primary challenges against several incumbent House Democrats.

Ocasio-Cortez, largely unknown a year ago, is now one of the most prominent members of Congress following her stunning upset win over former Rep. Joe Crowley (D., N.Y.) in last year's Democratic primary. A democratic socialist, she cruised to a general election win in her heavily liberal district in the Bronx and Queens.

The freshman Democrat, known for her social media prowess, looseness with facts, and support for radical policies like the Green New Deal, has taken Congress by storm.

Now, according to a New York Times report, insurgent progressives are taking aim at several other incumbents around New York City.

"They should be afraid," said Maria Svart, the national director of the Democratic Socialists of America.

Among those incumbents who could be targeted are House Judiciary Chairman Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D., N.Y.) in Manhattan, Rep. Tom Suozzi (D., N.Y.) in Long Island, Rep. Kathleen Rice (D., N.Y.) in Long Island, and Rep. Eliot Engel (D., N.Y.) in the Bronx and Westchester.

Engel is a strong supporter of Israel, an increasingly unpopular position for Democrats, and Rice angered some Democrats by opposing Nancy Pelosi again becoming speaker of the House. Suozzi was among the House Democrats who criticized Rep. Ilhan Omar (D., Minn.) for her recent bout of anti-Semitic tweets about pro-Israel politicians. He also defended Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and said he supported "some physical structures on the border" during an appearance last year on Fox News.

Alexandra Rojas, the executive director of Justice Democrats, is recruiting more left-wing primary challengers. Ocasio-Cortez, who supported Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) in his unsuccessful bid for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, has appeared in a promotional video for the organization.

"We are trying to elect more Alexandrias," Rojas said. "She is an example of what one victory can do. Imagine what we can do with more primary wins across the country."

Activist Sean McElwee, who co-founded progressive think tank Data for Progress and is recruiting a challenger to Engel, said, "We spend a lot of time thinking about why we have right-wing corporate Democrats selling out our interests."