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Ocasio-Cortez Turns a Latest York Brawl Right into a National Democratic Proxy Battle


Sean Patrick Maloney is a Democratic Party stalwart who declares himself a “practical, mainstream guy.”

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is a political outsider-turned-left-wing star with a robust social media megaphone.

Perhaps no two House Democrats higher represent the dueling factions of a celebration at war with itself — over matters of ideology and institutions, find out how to amass power and, most of all, find out how to beat Republicans. Mr. Maloney, who represents a Hudson Valley-area district, is the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, tasked with protecting incumbents and making him a pillar of the establishment. Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, who represents the Bronx and Queens, has made it her mission to push that establishment to the left, one endorsement of a liberal challenger at a time.

The 2 forces collided this week when Ms. Ocasio-Cortez handed her endorsement to Mr. Maloney’s primary opponent, Alessandra Biaggi, a left-leaning state senator with a political pedigree. It is commonly frowned upon for incumbents of the identical party to back primary challengers, and it is very unusual inside a state’s delegation. But Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, who toppled a Democratic incumbent herself in 2018, has never been one to abide by such rules, and her muscle and fund-raising savvy could possibly be a significant factor within the race.

The move turned a contest already stuffed with powerful Latest Yorkers and divided loyalties right into a messy national Democratic proxy battle. There are clear tensions on issues which have divided the moderate and left wings of the party, including public safety, Medicare for All and fund-raising tactics. Driving those disputes are more existential questions, like find out how to pursue political survival in a climate that appears increasingly catastrophic for the party in power.

“It’s a fight between two Democrats: one is younger and dynamic and desires to make changes quickly,” said former Governor David Paterson, for whom Mr. Maloney once worked and who has remained neutral within the race. Against this, he said, Mr. Maloney “is now emerging within the leadership of the House, and is considering more about the whole party and the way things will go in November this yr.”

The fight will play out in Latest York’s seventeenth District, which under recent boundaries includes parts of rich Westchester County, outside Latest York City, and conservative Hudson Valley hamlets. The district was recently redrawn as a part of a redistricting fight that left some Democrats seething at Mr. Maloney. It also left the seventeenth District more competitive — raising the stakes for a primary fight which will activate which candidate voters think can hold the seat. Mike Lawler, a state assemblyman, is anticipated to be the Republican front-runner in the first on Aug. 23.

“Now we have an incredible opportunity to have the option to win against Republicans in November by being daring on our positions for working people,” Ms. Biaggi said in an interview.

But that will not occur with an Ocasio-Cortez endorsement, warned Suzanne Berger, the chairwoman of the Westchester County Democratic Committee, who is backing Mr. Maloney.

“They misjudged the voters of Latest York-17 in the event that they think that is useful to winning in November, which is the most important point,” she said. “Republicans will use that endorsement as a weapon in November.”

Ms. Ocasio-Cortez declined an interview request. Her spokeswoman, Lauren Hitt, said that the district could be competitive regardless and that “with Roe and gun safety on voters’ minds, Senator Biaggi’s record makes her uniquely positioned to drive out enthusiastic voters within the midterms.”

Ms. Biaggi and Ms. Ocasio-Cortez have been political allies since they each rose to prominence by defeating Democratic incumbents in 2018. Ms. Biaggi, 36, is the granddaughter of Mario Biaggi, who was a 10-term congressman from Latest York. Hillary Clinton, whose Chappaqua house is now within the district, helped lead Ms. Biaggi’s wedding ceremony. Mr. Maloney, 55, has his own Clinton connections. He worked in former President Bill Clinton’s White House as a staff secretary, and he recently marched with Mrs. Clinton in a Memorial Day parade in Chappaqua, in accordance with a photograph he posted on Twitter. Spokesmen for the Clintons had no comment on their plans to endorse within the race.

Mr. Maloney, who calls himself a “pragmatic progressive who gets things done,” is thought to be the favourite within the race, though local party officials say each candidates have work to do in introducing themselves across a newly configured district. Ms. Biaggi, for her part, argued that Mr. Maloney had been too timid on issues like health care — she supports Medicare for All and said that “ideally private insurance wouldn’t be a part of that.” She casts Mr. Maloney as too near corporate interests.

And, at a moment of overlapping national crises and frequent stalemate on Capitol Hill, where Democrats hold narrow majorities, she suggested that voters were within the mood for candidates who would “fight like hell for them.”

When Mr. Maloney first arrived in Congress after flipping a Republican seat in 2012, he was unquestionably more of a centrist. But his allies now dismiss the concept the congressman — Latest York’s first openly gay member of Congress who has long fought for L.G.B.T.Q. rights and supported climate proposals backed by Ms. Ocasio-Cortez — is a moderate.

In an interview, he said he believed “in mainstream policies that may get done immediately, on things like protecting our youngsters from gun violence, protecting reproductive freedom and climate change.” (The Senate has stymied most of those priorities.)

He noted several times that he had “nothing but respect” or “tremendous respect” for Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, despite her endorsement of Ms. Biaggi.

“I’m an original co-sponsor of the Green Latest Deal, and now we have spoken about that — I speak to her on a regular basis,” he said.

But as of Thursday, he confirmed, that they had not spoken since she raised the prospect last month that he should step aside as D.C.C.C. chairman, amid a battle over redistricting that threatened to tear the delegation apart. In response to people in and across the delegation, who were granted anonymity to debate private conversations, there haven’t been efforts to mediate between the 2 representatives.

Ms. Hitt, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s spokeswoman, said that they were “collegial despite their differences.”

After the state’s high court struck down a congressional map drawn by Democrats and a recent map was announced, Mr. Maloney declared that he could be running not within the redrawn version of his current 18th Congressional District but within the barely safer seventeenth District. He lives there — and Ms. Biaggi doesn’t, although she is planning to maneuver to it — but the world is essentially represented by Representative Mondaire Jones.

The leader of the campaign committee entertaining a challenge to a fellow incumbent drew explosive backlash, and Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, citing a conflict of interest, suggested that Mr. Maloney should step down as chairman should he pursue such a challenge. Ultimately, Mr. Jones decided to run in a distinct district and a primary was averted, but some members still privately bristle on the episode.

Asked about his message to disgruntled colleagues, Mr. Maloney acknowledged that he “could have done things higher,” whilst he stressed that the district he chosen was only marginally safer for Democrats than the choice.

“I also thought there was a way for it to work out and avoid a primary between members and that’s just what we did,” he said.

He also promised that, as chairman of the committee, his “heart” and his “focus” could be on protecting the Democratic majority whilst he navigated his own race.

At the identical time, Mr. Maloney noted that he ended a policy that blacklisted consultants or political groups that backed candidates who ran against incumbents. The policy had been a degree of contention between left-leaning members and the D.C.C.C.

Ms. Ocasio-Cortez has backed several challengers this yr — one lost and one narrowly trails in a race that’s headed to a recount — much to the annoyance of some Democrats.

“Latest York’s post-redistricting fiasco is a transparent demonstration of why a sitting member of Congress mustn’t lead the political arm of the Democratic Party,” said Representative Kathleen Rice of Latest York. But she also looked as if it would criticize Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, complaining about “certain members with their very own long history of difficult incumbents” who’re stirring the pot.

“When the stakes are this high, Democrats must be coming together to maintain the bulk, quite than promoting Dem-on-Dem violence,” she said.

Asked about criticism that Ms. Ocasio-Cortez is overly wanting to tackle her colleagues, Ms. Hitt said that the congresswoman believed that nobody was entitled to re-election “by default.”

Some nationally distinguished House Democrats have rallied around Mr. Maloney, who’s near House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The list includes the chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, Representative Joyce Beatty of Ohio, who said in an interview Thursday that she was supporting him.

Among the criticism Mr. Maloney is getting, she noted, comes with the job.

“You’re never going to make everybody completely satisfied, and also you’re judged on victory,” she said.

Representative Hakeem Jeffries of Latest York, the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, called Mr. Maloney “a hard-working and well-respected member of Congress who has won multiple hotly contested elections,” and expressed confidence that voters “will once more send him back to Washington.”

Asked if that was an endorsement, he said only that the comment spoke for itself. However it reflected an unmistakable sign of encouragement from party leadership.

The first is scheduled for August. But for all of the drama around the competition, some Democrats within the delegation and beyond are already consumed by larger problems amid an ever-worsening political climate.

“While you’re facing the potential of a tornado,” said former Representative Steve Israel, a former D.C.C.C. chairman, “the offended breezes don’t really matter.”

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